SkillCoach is a new series where Product Dev. Professional, Vince Haley, provides a virtual design critique of a new design or submission we’ve received. Give us your feedback in the comments! Connect with Vince on Linkedin here. Have a design you would like to submit for a review and critique? Contact us here.

Welcome to the SkillCoach series! I’m Vince Haley and, though you’ve seen my writing here on SolidSmack, I’ve been in the consumer product industry for years in roles such as Principal Industrial Designer, Lead Product Designer, and Lead Design Engineer to name a few. I’ve also taught ID at multiple universities. It’s an honor to use this experience to help others grow their skills in order to make their ideas come to life!

Todays Virtual Design Critique (VDC) will focus on IKEA’s INGOLF bar stool and how the DNA of the product has shifted in these latter stages of its product lifecycle. This VDC will be a Then & Now design assessment. I’ll seek to root out some of the factors that have caused the INGOLF product to take a hit in the eyes of consumers from a perceived quality perspective. My hunch is, the economic pressures associated with logistics, cost of goods (COGs), and new product styles entering the mix are the culprits.

Part of my aim in this VDC is to raise awareness and ready young designers to embrace the portions of the project brief that may seem inconsequential or mundane in the early phases of the design process. Truth be told, failing to consider these three can be the demise of the greatest of ideas right out of the gate.

Before diving into the crit,  here’s a big ol’ shout-out to Carina Bengs the creative force behind the design of the massively successful INGOLF Seating Collection for IKEA. As furniture and styles go, the longevity of this product offering is truly amazing. As best I can tell the product launched sometime in 2006 and is still available in IKEA retail outlets around the globe! Since securing a student internship with IKEA over 30 years ago, Carina has designed a wide range of product for the home decor giant. Owing to her, many of our homes have been graced with furnishings that are both functional and timeless in style.  As for the INGOLF chair and barstool, without a doubt a whole lot of bottoms have been “sitting pretty” for quite some time!

Designer’s Vision

How do you think when you design and how would you describe your design style? – I work according to a need. I have done a lot of traditional furniture and work hard in wood because I have a great deal of knowledge about the material. I am sometimes inspired by old objects, but I am very much about creating something new and giving the traditional a more modern expression and thoughtful details. Timeless forms create security and recognition, I like it. I strive to make products that can live long in the home. Almost daily, I get feedback from customers who live with and love their furniture. That’s what drives me and encourages to make really good products.” 

Source: 2013 IKEA Designer Portrait Interview


Early generation INGOLF consumer assembly experience

YouTube video

IKEA INGOLF ’17 Product Description

The INGOLF series looks just as nice in the kitchen and dining room as in the bedroom or hallway. The solid wood construction holds up well.

  • You sit comfortably thanks to the high back.
  • Solid wood is a durable natural material.
  • Chair – Solid pine, Stain, Clear acrylic lacquer
  • Seat – Solid pine
  • Footrest – Steel, Powder coating
  • Size – 24 3/4 ” & 29 1/8 ” high
Assembly & Documentation
 Good to know
  • For maximum quality, re-tighten the screws about two weeks after assembly.
  • May be completed with FIXA self-adhesive floor protectors to protect the underlying surface against wear.
  • This chair has been tested for home use and meets the requirements for durability and safety, set forth in the following standards: EN 12520 and EN 1022.

Care instructions

  • Wipe clean using a damp cloth and a mild cleaner.
  • Wipe dry with a clean cloth.

Design Discoveries & Observations

The product life-cycle changes associated with the IKEA INGOLF chair came to my attention by way of a recent Gumtree purchase. BTW, here in Australia Gumtree is the equivalent to Craigslist. My wife had been keeping an eye out for a set of lightly used IKEA bar stools. When two INGOLF stools came available we gobbled them up believing that an additional two would list in short order. We were right, in less than a month a friend was making his way through the bustling Sydney traffic to pick up three of our awaited prizes!

Upon arrival, we immediately noticed one glaring difference. The new stools were a good 4 inch taller! This  was a purchasing oversight on our part. Nonetheless, what to do? Well being somewhat savvy at woodworking myself, I said “No problem, I can take care of that in short order!”

When I moved closer to size up the task several other design differences became readily apparent. For example, although the new stools were taller they felt much lighter in weight when I picked one up. I also noticed fasteners where the first set had none. In addition, the inferior fit between components quite noticeable.  Finally, the finish lacked the rich luster of the first two stools. Emphatically I declared “COST REDUCTION!” My designers mind was set into motion surmising the sales and distribution pressures that have come to bare on this classic IKEA product offering.

In the life span of a product there are numerous factors that necessitate reducing cost. The remainder of this VDC will highlight the “Then & Now” changes and the ultimate impact they have on the consumer experience.

Factor One – Logistic

A quick glance at the product code on the underside of the seats told me that the Carina Beng original and my favored stool were mfg. ’15 week 21 out of Thailand, while the cost reduced model was mfg. ’16 week 26 out of Bulgaria. From this we learn that IKEA was able to manage the cost of goods for roughly nine years before needing deviate from the original design intent. Apparently the Bulgarian mfg. site is able to manufacture and distribute the revised INGOLF stools in a more cost effective manner than the Thailand facility.

Factor Two – Design

The original design and detailing of the INGOLF nicely balanced the needs and aspiration of the end consumer and most certainly was the right value proposition for IKEA. While the flatpack requirement may not have been optimized, The component breakout made assembly the most simple and straight forward from a consumer perspective. Enough mfg. wiggle room apparently was planned in order to optimize the flat-packing of the product down the road. The fit and finish of all components were stellar at product launch and onward making the INGOLF stools highly desirable.

Yet over time as new products came online and cost of good increased the need for cost reductions obviously became inevitable perhaps signaling the INGOLf chair is at the latter stages of it life-cycle. For me the differences of the actual and perceived quality shift was like night and day. Also judging by the dip in product review ratings on IKEA’s site other consumers have discerned the shift and are experience the pains.

Cheap Quality – Maddie2003

“I bought (2) INGOLF bar stools about a year ago and wanted to add a third to our house. The new models lack a back leg support, have smaller backs, and are so much lighter (read: they feel flimsy) that none of us adults felt comfortable sitting in it. These new ones are a FAR CRY from the sturdy, solidly built ones of just a year ago. I’m VERY disappointed and will be returning this.”

 No, I do not recommend this product – (7 months ago)

“I bought the exact same model 3 years ago. Few weeks back we decided we want to get an additional one but were very disappointed with the quality. They’ve downsized on the quality, We are even scared to sit on it for fear of breaking.”

 No, I do not recommend this product. – (7 months ago)

Obviously from these recent rating the INGOLF product offering has taken big hit with regard to customer confidence and satisfaction. Have a look at the collection of images I snapped and see how readily you can pick out the shift in fit, function, and aesthetic appeal.

My take-away is on the whole, IKEA does a great job of minimizing the adverse DNA altering effects of their products over the course of its given life-cycle.  Without a doubt, IKEA is a company that has mastered the remixing of design, manufacturing, cost of goods, and customer service to generate fresh, compeling home decor solutions.

I trust this Virtual Design Critique of the IKEA INGOLF bar stool collection has given us all as consumers fresh insight into the hows and whys that products shift in quality, aesthetic appeal, and availability over time. If you are a designer, I hope you’ve been inspired to approach designing with these multi-faceted product life-cycle requirements at the onset of your projects. – Until next time, SkillCoach!


Vince has worked as Studio Engineer for consumer and medical product brands such as Whirlpool, Newell and ResMed Ltd. Australia. He's garnered 39+ patents and has designed everything from totes to toasters, and fiddles to furniture. He enjoys all things 3D and has carved out a niche as a Class-A Surfacing Guru. Active in both industry and academia, Vince serves as a Creative and Technical Skill Development Coach providing hands-on training and workshops pertaining to CAID/CAD. Vince relishes opportunities to keep learning and sharing what he's learned!