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James Yu

ME 120
Investigation No. 1

As supply chains and production plants become more efficient, the consumer is
deluged with a range of affordable products never before seen in history. This is
prevalent in many industries ranging from shoes to furniture to bicycles. Super cheap
stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Payless Shoes are as popular as ever, superceding the
old way of shopping. However, behind the veal of glossy low priced tags are products
that are low in quality and reliability.
The affordability aspect is a definite windfall for many people. This is especially
true for students or young couples who are on a tight budget. This was my situation
during my move to California with my fiancée. We decided to rent an unfurnished
apartment, and needed to fill the space with furniture. Of course, the logical affordable
choice is IKEA, which sells low priced furniture.
The particular object of interest is the laundry bag from IKEA. What drew me at
first to this bag was its simple and modern design. There are basically two pieces: the
frame and the bag. The frame is two pieces of bent steel, and the bag is made out of
synthetic plastic. The bag is stitched with a loop which is attached to the steel frame.
And, the steel frame is screwed together at two joints which make it possible to fold the
bag open or closed.
The bag is aesthetically pleasing as it sits on the four endpoints of the steel frame,
producing a cross-like pattern on each side of the bag. However, this particular
construction induces many stressful points on the steel. After a few weeks of normal use
(under the maximum load specified), the steel frame started to bend at each of the screw
joints. After another month, the steel had bent so much that I was afraid it would actually
snap from the crimping at each joint. I promptly replaced the entire bag with a sturdier
old-fashioned plastic basket that is guaranteed to work.
I thought that the IKEA design was primarily well executed. The synthetic plastic
portion of the bag is very well crafted and looks like it could stand up to a lot of abuse.
The folding technique and design is simple. However, the frame was weakly designed.
This is the basically the skeleton of the bag and, without it, the object falls apart.
Ironically, IKEA had chosen to ignore this important aspect of the design.
The steel itself actually feels quite flimsy, and is covered in some sort of gray
synthetic or plastic paint. I cannot tell exactly what grade the steel is, but it is probably a
lower grade than necessary to deal with the stress produced from the weight of the
clothes. The flimsiness is probably attributed to the mass production processes and
decisions employed by IKEA. The focus on affordability should not hamper the focus on
quality and reliability.
Another example of low quality work was a couch my friend bought from IKEA.
On the outside, the piece looked nice and stylish. He decided to reupholster this
particular couch and was horrified by what he found inside. There were numerous
problems indicating a lack of knowledge and care taken in constructing the couch. Nails
were drive too far into the wood, and random pieces of wood were used as patches for the
wooden frame. In general, the construction seemed haphazard and ugly. This did not
bode well for the reliability.
This hidden form of ugly design was very revealing. The couch looked pristine
on the outside, but its design was ugly on the inside. In order to reach a higher level of
quality, IKEA needs to spend its time constructing the piece as a whole, rather than
sweeping design problems under the rug (or behind the upholstery, in this case).

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