This next letter dates from 1988. It was written by Keith Snyder from Brooklyn in New York after a visit to the IKEA store across the Hudson in New Jersey. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was written by an Englishman (and that’s meant to be a compliment!) My appreciation to Keith for allowing me to reproduce the letter here. Keith has his own blog at http://www.journalscape.com/keithsnyder
To: Ikea Customer Service
8352 Honeygo Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21236
July 18, 1998
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am taking a break from assembling my 73×73 “Expedit” wall unit to express to you my gratitude for how interesting Ikea has made my life today.
What could have been simply another boring weekend has been transformed into an adventure, the likes of which I experience only when I shop at and subsequently assemble furniture sold by your lovely company.
My first thank-you goes to the service counter, where they increased my sense of suspense by drawing out the “fifteen-minute wait” by an additional fifteen minutes! How clever! They knew I’d be doubly happy when my gray “Expedit” wall unit finally appeared.
This same impish sense of humor was evident when, after the hour’s drive back home, I unboxed my gray “Expedit” wall unit to find that it was a black “Expedit” wall unit. Please forward my thanks to the service staff for sensing my poor interior design choice and taking it upon themselves to correct it.
Still chuckling over this delightful detour to my expectation, I began to assemble my black “Expedit” wall unit.
In hiring documentation writers who place clarity above simplicity, most companies reveal that they are humorless entities without the personal touch. Ikea is to be commended for their choice to create assembly instructions which not only do not use words at all — thus allowing people who may not speak the world’s primary languages to enjoy the identical experience on long Saturdays around the globe — but which allow the illustrator free range for his own personal artistic license. A less creative, free-spirited company would balk at releasing technical drawings which show holes where they are not and do not show holes where they are, which do not explicitly show the consumer how to differentiate the side pieces from the top, nor the top from the bottom, and which have no indication of the fact that the shelves are not intended to sit atop their supports, but rather surround them. But I have learned to look forward to Ikea’s droll, delightful, impressionist documentation. After all, if Seurat can create the impression of people at a French seaside using only colored dots, why should an Ikea technical illustrator not create only the impression of accuracy?
Also please thank your documentation team for allowing me the luxury of putting aside my precious projects for an hour or two of three-dimensional puzzle-solving. How did you know I so enjoy Rubik’s Cube and Chinese woodblocks? I have had my black “Expedit” wall unit assembled and disassembled three times now, and I still have not solved it! A hearty congratulations to your dedicated staff– I assemble and disassemble things all the time as part of owning a music studio, and you’ve managed to do what teams of Japanese, Dutch, and American documentation writers have failed to: You’ve got me stymied! I’ll beat you on this next go-round, though; I believe I now see it. Of course, the only reason I see it is that I seem to have run out of other combinations, but a brute force solution beats none.
(I do, however, think it is not entirely fair play to hide so many of the pre-drilled holes. I can see hiding one or two, but gluing veneer over two entire sides and leaving only the faintest dimples as evidence of the holes lurking beneath them seems a bit out-of-bounds and not quite preux, wouldn’t you say?)
Please also forward my thanks to whoever designed the veneer. While most consumers would be satisfied with a nice, clean, smooth, featureless gray — oops, I mean black! — surface, you were able to discern that I prefer to think of myself as an individualist, and would thus find such perfection boring. I’m very impressed with your foresight: Kudos to you for knowing that after the third complete reassembly and repositioning of my black “Expedit” wall unit, not a surface would remain unchipped. I am now the very proud owner of a brand new $249 shelf unit which looks as though it did not survive that last Florida hurricane. Thank you so much for allowing me to express my non-conformity through my interior furnishings.
Please also relay my gratitude to the sophisticate who intuited that six would be too symmetrical a number of plastic feet for the bottom of such a work of art, and who therefore removed one from my package, a subtle and insightful move, and one more commonly associated with the Futurist art movement than with most furniture stores. The positioning of five plastic feet into six pre-drilled holes was an unexpected and delightful intellectual and aesthetic challenge, and one which brought a wry smile and a colorful comment to my lips.
It seems I have so many things for which to be grateful that I would simply drone on forever if I tried. If you continue to give all your customers such excellent solutions to their needs – needs they weren’t even aware they had, wow! – the future of your company is easy to predict. After all, happy customers are return customers.
I now return to my $249 chipped, incorrectly (re-re-)assembled, black “Expedit” weekend project. Although I would love to do this all the time, I cannot always get to New Jersey, so next weekend, as a way of replicating the experience, I am considering staying home and banging myself repeatedly on the head with a hammer.
My best regards,
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