What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Ikea?

Chances are, it's flat-pack, self-assembling furniture. Designer Gillis Lundgren, who as Ikea's fourth employee helped pioneer both game-changing design traits, has passed away at 86, according to multiple reports. All told, Lundgren designed more than 200 pieces of furniture for Ikea, where he began working in 1953.

As his obituary in Quartz points out, Lundgren in 1956 removed the legs of a table so the table would fit in his car. It was a eureka moment, inspiring Lundgren and Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad to radically innovate how furniture was designed and delivered. 

In addition, Lundgren is the designer of Ikea's Billy bookcase, more than 41 million of which have been sold since its debut in 1979.

You might think the idea of flat-packing furniture has been a differentiator only for Ikea. In reality, it's a design concept that continues to have profound implications on entrepreneurs in the furniture business and other consumer-product categories.

For example, in recent years, startups have created bike helmets and sneakers that compress for easy shipping. Likewise, in the $15 billion mattress industry, where a new startup seems to emerge every minute, one of the game-changing developments has been compression technology allowing manufacturers to easily flatten and fold mattresses for shipping purposes without damaging them in the process.  

What's more, the history of consumer goods is filled with examples of companies who've gained an advantage by designing products for convenient shipping. "Isaac Singer's first sewing machines came in wooden crates," Matthew Bird, a professor at RISD who is an authority on the history of industrial design, explained to Inc last year. 

One century later, Ikea's flat-packed tables came along, ushering in an era of products "that take up little space till you get them," added Bird.

So the next time you order something from Ikea--or the next time you marvel at how a seemingly unwieldy product like a mattress was shipped to your home--take a moment to remember the work of Lundgren. 

"My design philosophy has always been that I design for the many people, I want to create solutions for everyday based on people's needs," Lundgren said in 2012, according to his obituary in Quartz. "My products are simple, practical and useful for everyone, no matter how old you are or what your life situation."

Published on: Mar 8, 2016