Every single day, 600 tons of particle board go into a factory, and out the other end comes a product so ubiquitous that there is one for every 100 people on Earth. It was designed in 1978. Can you guess what it is?
It's Ikea's Billy bookcase, which should go down in the history books as one of the farthest-reaching designs in the world, and a model of hyper-efficient production. Compared to the 1980s, Ikea is currently producing 37 times as many Billys as back then—yet the requisite workforce has only doubled!
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I learned these facts and plenty more from a fantastic podcast that will be of interest to industrial designers, and which is also being turned into a book. The podcast is called "50 Things That Made the Modern Economy" and the book is called "Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy." The former is hosted on the BBC World Service; the latter is coming out in August. Both are by Tim Harford, the journalist better known as The Financial Times' Undercover Economist. Writes Harford of the book,
I've tried to paint a picture of economic change by telling the stories of the ideas, people, and tools that had far-reaching and unexpected consequences for all of us. Drawing from the hugely popular BBC radio program and podcast "50 Things That Made The Modern Economy ," I discuss the inventions that have transformed the ways we work, play and live. From the plough to artificial intelligence, from Gillette's disposable razor to Ikea's Billy bookcase, I recount each invention's own memorable story and introduce you to the characters who developed them, profited from them, and were ruined by them.
The podcast is free and the sub-10-minute episodes are very listenable, well-researched and attributed. The book will be $15 to $20 for e-book or print versions, respectively. I highly recommend that you check both of them out.