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Design Principle: IKEA Effect

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How to make people love the product?

The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias that can influence the outcome and perceived value of products to a big degree. People tend to place high value on products they partially have created. Hence, the name IKEA effect. It is derived from the Swedish furniture retailer famous for products that require to be assembled by the customers.

Products designed by IKEA and LEGO are great examples of this psychological effect. Designers must have the IKEA effect in mind when designing solutions and use it when appropriate.

A bit about the IKEA effect

The more the needs for customization and co-production are present in your target audience the more the IKEA effect is relevant for you as a designer. The effect can help you instill feelings of competence in the user when the task is completed successfully.

The IKEA effect will create stronger bond between the user and the product. The effort that users will put into completing the product to a complete state will transform into love for that product. The subjective value will be higher in comparison to a product that hasn’t cost any effort.

For example, participants in on study constructed their own origami cranes. The participants valued them roughly five times as much as another group of participants who didn’t put effort into building them.

It is important to point out that the IKEA effect is not about putting the effort be it small or big, it is more about the completion of the task. The IKEA effect is present when the user can enjoy the completed task and the product. If the product is disassembled soon after the assembling the effect is lost.

Another example points out that it is also about hitting the sweet spot.

In the period of 1920–40 American food manufacturers wanted to reduce the time and effort required to make a cake. They simplified so much the process that the cooks needed to add only water and bake the cake. Unfortunately, the sales of the cake mix quickly stalled.

The manufacturers reached a psychologist named Ernest Dichter. He found out that the reason was the level of effort required. Making the cakes was too easy! It was so easy that people didn’t get satisfaction from baking the cake.

People were feeling the same way as buying a pre-made cakes from the store. The solution was to get out the egg of the dry mixture and allow people to add it themselves. Doing that made the sales go up again.

People had the need to be emotionally invested and get rewards from the process of making the cake not just the end result.

The journey is as important as the destination!

Making things too easy is not necessary providing better experience for the user. It is all about hitting the sweet spot where the user can enjoy breaking the egg, get a bit dirty, feel in control and eat the cake in the end.

IKEA effect in your design

The act of creating a thing with ones own hands increases the perceived value to the creator. As Designers we are familiar with that feeling.

Let’s look at some ideas how to utilize that in our designs so users can see bigger value in the products we make.

People are willing to pay more for products they create than equivalent pre-assembled products. The general rule is the higher the contribution the higher the valuation is. Yet, if the effort required is too big or the contribution too small, people won’t probably complete the task. The IKEA effect is possible only when the user actually completes the task.

To hit the sweet spot we need to aim at creating a product where the level of effort is low but the perceived contribution is high. This way the IKEA effect can be achieved.

Whenever possible let users have control over customization of the product and service. Design it to be easy to execute (as breaking an egg) and to have a high perceived contribution (as cooking a whole cake).

When you let the users feel in control and put a bit of effort into getting what they need from your product/service, they will form a stronger bond with the product/service.

Digital designers for example can use sample data and editable templates to achieve the IKEA effect. Make the first experience with your app feel dynamic and alive to the users. Prompt them to edit the templates and interact with the product. 

For example, leading them through the process of setting up their profile to completion. Executing successfully a simple task as sending their first email or setting up a widget on their website.

Simple actions requiring low effort and making the user feel like having high contribution will lower the fear of dealing with a new product. If done properly and continuously for a period of time it even can lead to forming loyalty to the brand and product. 

You might even gain a few ambassadors saying things like “It was so easy to setup and start using it! You should give it a try.” Or as the case of IKEA furniture “I saved some money on it and now it looks so good, even better than the fancy expensive furniture in the other shop.” :)

Conclusion

Sometimes saving the users a bit of labor could deprive them from a bit more happiness if they were to make the small effort. Think if you should decrease the user effort to zero or close to zero.

To make use of the effect we should engage people in the design and increase their sense of product ownership and brand loyalty. This way our designs will be loved more.

What’s the design principle behind the product you’re working on right now? We'd like to hear from you on @XiMnetMY.
This article is written by Anton Nikolov on UX Collective.
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