The Ikea Effect

Your constantly-updated definition of the Ikea Effect and collection of videos and articles
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What is the Ikea Effect?

The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias where consumers place a high value on products they have partially created or assembled. It takes its name from Swedish furniture company IKEA. Designers involve users in the creation or customization process, so users feel more competent and bonded with products.

‍Why is there an IKEA Effect?

The IKEA experience is famous for consumers assembling a wide range of furniture they buy in flat-packed boxes. However, there’s a deeper aspect to building your own chairs, tables and more. It’s not just about the end product or the amount of time you put into it. This “IKEA effect” can significantly influence a product's—any buildable product’s—perceived value and customer behavior. It suggests that people put higher value on products they have had a hand in creating. 

Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School, coined the term “Ikea effect” in a 2011 study. Norton and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments to explore the psychological phenomenon behind the IKEA effect. They found that when individuals put effort into creating or assembling a product, they tend to value it more highly. Moreover, that is true even if the end result is not objectively better than a pre-made alternative. So, the effort that consumers put into completing a product to its final state transforms into an affinity for that product. That makes its subjective value higher compared to a pre-assembled equivalent product.

An illustration showing the IKEA effect at work.

Do-it-yourself adds so much more satisfaction – the spirit of the IKEA effect!

© Badis Khalfallah, Fair Use

The IKEA Effect in User Experience (UX) Design

The IKEA effect certainly translates to the real world of user experience (UX) design, user interfaces, and product development. When you involve users in your product or service’s creation or customization process, it becomes personal and emotional for them. For example, you can do this when you:

  1. Enable users to personalize their app interfaces.

  2. Allow them to build their profiles on a website.

The basic key is to give users control over aspects of the product and make the execution as simple as possible. You can empower users to do this whether you’re working on an existing product or starting a totally new one.

Screenshot of a Mailchimp.com page.

Allowing users to put some effort into a product lets them value it more highly, and more, such as thinking carefully before proceeding.

© Mailchimp, Fair Use

Benefits of the IKEA Effect

Here are some pros of the IKEA effect to users of the products (and services) you might design: 

  1. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and competence when they successfully complete a task.

  2. That “job well done” enhances their experience and satisfaction. It means that products include a high quality of joy and attachment for their target audience. That boosts the customer experience.

  3. It can foster a stronger emotional connection between your customer base and your brand. 

  4. Users in your target market will be more loyal. What’s more, the IKEA effect can enhance your final product’s perceived value. That makes it more desirable and enjoyable for the users.

    Chart showing the IKEA effect.

    Aim for the sweet spot to get your users on board with the IKEA effect.

    © Anton Nikolov, Fair Use

Risks of the IKEA Effect

While there are pros, here are some cons of the IKEA effect for you and any product managers to consider:

The potential for bias

When people become emotionally invested in something, they may overlook or downplay its flaws. That can lead to a biased assessment of its value. This in turn can get in the way of objective evaluation and prevent your design team from making necessary improvements or changes. So, your product or service may need improvements that solid usability testing or an expert evaluation would expose. 

The tendency to overestimate the market demand for a self-made product 

Just because an individual values their creation highly doesn't mean that others will share the same sentiment. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and difficulties in successfully marketing or selling the product. So, it can put your design team members’ time and money invested in the project at risk. 

Complacency and resistance to feedback 

When people are highly attached to their creation, they may be less open to constructive criticism or suggestions for improvement. This can limit growth and innovation, as well as hinder collaboration and learning from others. You could take an example of this to be the Facebook shift to the Timeline format in 2012. As Facebook had let users put so much into their profile pages beforehand, many users were resistant to go along with the new, improved version.

A sunk cost fallacy 

People may feel hesitant to abandon or change a project they have invested significant time and effort into, even if it is no longer viable or beneficial. This can lead to wasted resources and missed opportunities for pursuing more promising endeavors. That is, if your users have had a hand in co-creating your design, they may cling to it even if your user research shows that a change is in order.

Image of Apple music screens.

Apple leverages the IKEA effect nicely by bringing users in to make good decisions early. 

© Archana Madhavan, Fair Use

How to Leverage the IKEA Effect in UX Design

You can apply the IKEA effect in your product development process by creating products or services that require user involvement. You can do this if you:

  • Customize the product or service, engaging users in the design process, or allowing users to assemble or create a part of the product. You could, in fact, have your users fully on board in a participatory design approach. This could manifest in many forms. For example, potential customers could get involved in the information architecture or visual design of your creation. 

  • Keep a sharp eye for how to involve users. Aim to create an interaction design product where the level of effort is low but the perceived contribution is high. User feedback should confirm that you hit the right formula where your users and product ideas meet.

  • Use editable templates and sample data to achieve the IKEA effect, making the app feel dynamic and alive to the users. So, design for simple actions requiring low effort but making the user feel they've contributed significantly. That can lower their fear of dealing with a new product. Do it right and it can lead to users forming loyalty to a brand and product.

Image of what is behind the IKEA Effect

The formula is simple, although the considerations—and possibilities—are numerous. 

© Anton Nikolov, Fair Use

Best Practices and Tips

Consider the following best practices and tips to make the best of the IKEA effect for your users:

Keep tasks simple: The IKEA effect works best when tasks are simple and straightforward to complete. Overly complex tasks can frustrate users and may deter them from completing the product.

Provide clear instructions: Users should have clear and concise instructions to ensure they complete tasks successfully.

Balance effort and reward: The level of effort required from users should be proportional to the perceived value of the completed product. If the effort required is too high or the contribution you reward them with too small, people probably won't complete the task.

Test and iterate: Conduct user testing to understand how users interact with your product—and iterate based on their feedback.

Image of a warehouse store.

Think of all the possibilities you can leverage 

© Selim Can Işık, Fair Use

The IKEA Effect in Action: Brands Doing It Right

Several brands have successfully harnessed the power of the IKEA effect. For example, Apple allows customers to customize their devices, from choosing custom configurations to adding personal engravings. This level of personalization instills a sense of ownership and higher perceived value among customers. These are qualities that also can help when it comes to marketing campaigns.

Remember, it's essential to strike a balance between the level of effort required from the user and the perceived reward. Here’s where it might be helpful for you as a product designer to think of LEGO.  By providing customers with the opportunity to construct their own toys, LEGO taps into the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes with creating something from scratch. When you transfer that spirit well, you can fine-tune engaging and satisfying experiences that keep customers coming back for more.

Learn More about The IKEA Effect

Take our course Emotional Design – How to Make Products People Will Love.

Read our piece The IKEA effect and Convivial Tools – Leveraging Our Human Need for Creativity.

For further in-depth insights, read The Ikea Effect | Canvs Editorial.

See other fascinating points in More Perspectives on IKEA Effect Bia UX | UX Uncensored.

Questions about The Ikea Effect

What are IKEA effect examples?

One notable example of the IKEA effect in user experience (UX) design and product development is when users can customize websites and apps. Users sometimes have the chance to personalize the interface, such as rearranging widgets, choosing themes, or setting preferences. That’s how they often form a stronger attachment to the platform and a higher perceived value of it. It depends on the level of effort required from them. However, this sense of co-creation and ownership enhances your target audience’s overall experience with your product or service. Users are likely to enjoy it more if they can do this through a ready-made template. And your conversion rates are more likely to increase.

Another example is user-generated content. Platforms that have encouraged users to contribute content, like user feedback / reviews, comments, or designs, trigger the IKEA effect. This helps deliver high-quality customer journeys and customer experiences. Users feel a sense of pride and attachment to their contributions, fostering a deeper connection with the website or app. Product managers of new and existing products can therefore help put this strategy with potential customers to good use. 

Also, the process of gamification in UX design leverages the IKEA effect. When users engage in tasks or challenges and experience a sense of achievement, they become more emotionally invested in the platform. Delivered at the right part of a user journey, this phenomenon can boost user engagement and satisfaction in the final product. So, it should be a consideration for the product development teams behind your product ideas.

How does the IKEA effect influence user engagement in product design?

The IKEA effect plays a significant role in enhancing user engagement in product design. This cognitive bias, where people place a higher value on things they partially create, can be a powerful tool for you as a user experience designer to increase user attachment and satisfaction with the designs you create.

When users are involved in the creation or customization of a product, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and pride in the final product. This emotional investment leads to greater engagement and a more positive overall user experience. For instance, a user who personalizes a software interface is likely to feel more connected to the digital product than if they had received it in a finished state.

How can designers leverage the IKEA effect in creating more engaging products?

You as a designer can leverage the IKEA effect to create more engaging products by involving users in the creation or customization process. The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias where individuals place a higher value on products they partially created.

To apply the IKEA effect, consider ways to involve users in the design process. This could be through DIY kits, customizable features, or even through apps that allow users to design or personalize their product. This involvement not only increases the perceived value of the product but also enhances user engagement and satisfaction.

For example, allowing users to customize interfaces or features can create a sense of ownership and satisfaction from your target audience and customer base.

Also, this approach can lead to a deeper understanding of the users' needs and preferences, providing valuable insights for future product development. It's important, however, to balance the level of user involvement; too much complexity in assembly or customization can lead to frustration instead of engagement.

What are the psychological principles behind the IKEA effect?

The IKEA effect features several underpinning psychological principles that explain why people value self-assembled or self-created products more highly than those that others make. When you understand these principles, it can help you as a designer to create more engaging and valued products for a wide range of users’ experiences.

Effort Justification: This principle is based on cognitive dissonance theory. When people put effort into a task, they rationalize the effort by attributing a higher value to the outcome. In the case of the IKEA effect, the effort involved in assembling a product creates a sense of greater appreciation and valuation of the final product.

Sense of Accomplishment: Completing a task, especially one that is challenging, generates a sense of accomplishment. This positive feeling then transfers to the product itself, increasing its perceived value and the user’s attachment to it.

Personalization and Customization: When individuals contribute to the creation or customization of a product, they feel that it reflects their personal identity and preferences. This personal connection enhances the perceived uniqueness and value of the product.

Control and Autonomy: When users participate in the creation process, it gives them a sense of control and autonomy. This feeling of being in charge of the outcome leads to a stronger emotional investment in the product.

Learning and Skill Development: Engaging in the assembly or customization process can be a learning experience, leading to skill development. The pride associated with learning and mastering new skills further increases the value that users and potential customers attribute to the product.

These principles highlight the importance of user involvement in the design process. By allowing users to exert effort, express their identity, and feel a sense of control, designers can enhance the overall value and appeal of their products.

How does the IKEA effect play into gamification in design?

The IKEA effect plays a significant role in gamification in design, which itself involves applying game-design elements in non-game contexts to encourage user participation and engagement. The principles of the IKEA effect are things you can integrate into gamification strategies to make them more effective. Here's how:

Effort and Reward: In gamification, the IKEA effect is observable when users put effort into tasks or challenges within a system. The effort invested makes the rewards or achievements feel more valuable, enhancing user satisfaction. For instance, users who complete challenging tasks in a gamified app are likely to value the rewards more highly due to the effort they put in.

Customization and Personalization: If you let users customize aspects of their experience in a gamified system, it can increase their emotional investment and sense of ownership, similar to how the IKEA effect works. This could involve customizing avatars, user interfaces, or achieving personalized goals, which makes the experience more engaging and rewarding.

Progression and Mastery: The IKEA effect enhances the sense of achievement as users progress through different levels or stages in a gamified design. The satisfaction of mastering a level or acquiring a new skill within the game can be attributed to the effort and time invested, much like the satisfaction derived from assembling a product.

Active Participation: Just as the IKEA effect values active involvement in product assembly, gamification benefits from active user participation. Engaging users in tasks, challenges, and interactive activities increases their engagement and the perceived value of the experience.

What's the role of the IKEA effect in the success of customizable products?

The IKEA effect plays a pivotal role in the success of customizable products because of several factors, including:

Increased Perceived Value: When users invest time and effort into customizing a product, they tend to value it more highly than a comparable, ready-made product. This heightened value perception is a direct outcome of the IKEA effect and can lead to greater satisfaction with the product.

Emotional Attachment: Customization lets users imprint a part of their identity onto the product. This personalization leads to a stronger emotional connection, as the product becomes a reflection of the user's choices and creativity.

Sense of Achievement: The process of customizing and creating a unique product provides a sense of achievement. Users feel proud of their creation, which not only elevates the product's value but also fosters a positive overall experience.

Enhanced User Experience: Customizable products cater to individual preferences, allowing users to tailor the product to their specific needs and tastes. This flexibility enhances the overall user experience, making the product more relevant and appealing.

Brand Loyalty and Advocacy: Products that successfully employ the IKEA effect through customization can foster greater brand loyalty. Satisfied customers are more likely to become repeat buyers and recommend the product to others.

You as a designer can leverage the IKEA effect by offering customization options that are meaningful and engaging, without being overly complex. When you strike this balance, you can enhance the product's appeal and ensure a satisfying user experience.

Where to Learn More about the IKEA Effect?
What are some of the most popular books on the subject of the IKEA effect?

"The Pocket Universal Principles of Design" by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler: This book describes the IKEA effect as a design principle and how you can use it to create more engaging products.

What are highly cited scientific pieces of research about the IKEA Effect?

Norton, M. I., Mochon, D., & Ariely, D. (2012). The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(3), 453-460. https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=41121

This seminal paper is the foundational study that coined the term "IKEA effect". It explores how labor enhances affection for its results. The authors conducted several experiments demonstrating that self-made products are valued as highly as those made by professionals. This research is influential as it established a fundamental understanding of how labor and effort investment can alter consumer perception and value attribution.

Literature on the Ikea Effect

Here’s the entire UX literature on the Ikea Effect by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about the Ikea Effect

Take a deep dive into Ikea Effect with our course Emotional Design — How to Make Products People Will Love .

All open-source articles on the Ikea Effect

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