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 put 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. IKEA is an extremely popular option for consumers who return to this successful brand for their furniture needs—among other quality goods. However, there’s a deeper aspect to customers building their own chairs, tables and more, and it’s not just about the end product or the amount of time they 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’ve had a hand in creating.  

Professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Norton coined the term “Ikea effect” in a 2011 study. Norton and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments where they examined and explored the psychological phenomenon behind the IKEA effect. They found that when individuals put effort into creating or assembling a product, they typically value it more highly than if they’d purchased one that had already been assembled in the store. What’s more, that’s true even if the end result isn’t objectively better than a pre-made alternative. So, the effort that consumers put into completing a product from pieces to its final state transforms into an actual affinity for that product. It’s something 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’s—or service’s—creation or customization process, it becomes a personal and emotional thing for them. For example, you can do this when you let users: 

  • Personalize their app interfaces. 

  • 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) a designer might set before them.  

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

  • 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—something that boosts the customer experience. 

  • It can nurture a stronger emotional connection between the brand and its customer base.  

  • Users in the target market will be more loyal. What’s more, the IKEA effect can bolster the final product’s perceived value—and 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 designers and product managers to think about: 

The Potential for Bias

When people become emotionally invested in something, they might end up overlooking or downplaying 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 a design team from making improvements or changes it needs to. So, the product or service may need improvements that solid usability testing or an expert evaluation would expose.  

The Tendency to Overestimate Market Demand for a Self-Made Product

Just because an individual values their creation highly, it doesn't mean that others are going to share the same sentiment. That’s something that can lead to unrealistic expectations and difficulties in successfully marketing or selling the product. So, it can put a 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 improvements to it. This can limit growth and innovation—plus, it can hinder collaboration and learning from others. One example of a phenomenon like this might 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 weren’t too happy about going along with the new, improved version. 

A Sunk Cost Fallacy

People may feel hesitant to abandon or change a project they’ve invested a lot of time and effort into—and that’s true even if it’s no longer viable or beneficial. This can lead to wasted resources and missed opportunities to go after more promising endeavors. In UX terms, that means if users have had a hand in co-creating a design, they may cling to it even if the user research shows that a change is indeed 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

Designers can factor the IKEA effect into their product development process whenever they create products or services that call for user involvement. Designers can do this if they: 

  • Customize the product or service, engaging users in the design process—or letting them assemble or create a part of the product. A designer could—in fact—have users fully on board in a participatory design approach. This could manifest in many forms—like, for example, potential customers getting involved in the information architecture or visual design of what a designer wants to make for them.  

  • 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 designers have hit the right formula where their users and product ideas meet. 

  • Use editable templates and sample data to achieve the IKEA effect—and make the app feel dynamic and alive to the users. So, design for simple actions that call for low effort but that make the user feel they've contributed a great deal. It’s something 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 for users to complete. Tasks that are overly complex can frustrate users and might even put them off completing the product. 

  • Provide clear instructions: Users should have clear and concise instructions to make sure they finish tasks successfully. 

  • Balance effort and reward: The level of effort that users need to put in should be in proportion to the perceived value of the finished product. If the effort required of them is too high—or the contribution the brand rewards them with too small—people probably won't complete the task. 

  • Test and iterate: Do solid user testing to understand how users interact with the product—and then 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 been successful in how they’ve harnessed the power of the IKEA effect. For example, Apple lets customers customize their devices—and that goes from choosing custom configurations to adding personal engravings. This level of personalization instills a sense of ownership in customers and a higher perceived value of the product among them. These are qualities that also can be helpful when it comes to marketing campaigns. 

Remember, it's vital to strike a balance between the level of effort that the user has to put in and the reward they perceive they’ll get. This is where it might be helpful for a product designer to think of LEGO.  By giving customers the chance to construct their own toys, LEGO taps into the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes with creating something from scratch. When UX and UI designers transfer that spirit—and do it well—they 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?

A notable example of the 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 get a higher perceived value of it. It depends on the level of effort that’s required from them. However, this sense of co-creation and ownership is something to enhance 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—plus, your conversion rates are more likely to increase. 

There’s another example in 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—something that fosters a deeper connection with the website or app. So, product managers of new and existing products can help put this strategy with potential customers to good use.  

Also, the process of gamification in UX design is something that 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 raise satisfaction levels in the final product. So, it should be a consideration for the product development teams who are behind your product ideas. 

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

The IKEA effect plays a large role in terms of 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 raise how attached users are to the designs you create and satisfied with them 

When users are involved in creating or customizing a product, they’re more likely to feel a sense of ownership and pride in that final product. This emotional investment leads to higher levels of 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’d received it in a finished state. 

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

You as a designer can get the IKEA effect working for you so you create more engaging products—by involving users in the creation or customization process. The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias; in it, individuals put a higher value on products that they’ve partially created. 

To tap into the IKEA effect, think about ways to involve users in the design process. This could be through DIY kits, customizable features—or even through apps that let users design or personalize their product. This involvement doesn’t just increase the perceived value users see in the product; it serves to boost to user engagement and satisfaction, too. 

For example, let users customize interfaces or features and you can create a sense of ownership and satisfaction among your target audience and customer base. 

What’s more, this approach can lead to a deeper understanding of the users' needs and preferences. That’s vital—and these could be invaluable insights for future product development. It's important, though, to balance the level of user involvement; too much complexity in assembly or customization can end up in the shape of many frustrated users instead of happy engagement. 

What are the psychological principles behind the IKEA effect?

The IKEA effect features several underpinning psychological principles—principles that explain why people value self-assembled or self-created products more than they do ones that others make. When you understand these principles, it can help you make 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 putting a higher value on the outcome. In the case of the IKEA effect, the effort involved in assembling a product makes a sense of greater appreciation and valuation of the final product. 

Sense of accomplishment: To complete a task—especially one that’s 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 people contribute to the creation or customization of a product, they feel it reflects their personal identity and preferences. This personal connection they get is something that enhances the perceived uniqueness and value of the product. 

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

Learning and skill development: To be part of the assembly or customization process can be a learning experience—and develop a user’s skills. The pride associated with learning and mastering new skills bolsters the value further that users and potential customers put on the product. 

How does the IKEA effect play into gamification in design?

The principles of the IKEA effect are things you can integrate into gamification strategies so you can make them more effective—and here's how: 

Effort and reward: In gamification, you can see the IKEA effect when users put effort into tasks or challenges within a system. The effort they put in makes the rewards or achievements feel more valuable. For instance, users who complete challenging tasks in a gamified app are likely to put higher values on the rewards thanks to the effort they’ve invested. 

Customization and personalization: If you let users customize aspects of their experience in a gamified system, it can make them more emotionally invested—and get a bigger sense of ownership, similar to how the IKEA effect works. This could involve customizing avatars, user interfaces or achieving personalized goals—things that make the experience more engaging and rewarding for them. 

Progression and mastery: The IKEA effect boosts the sense of achievement as users get through different levels or stages in a gamified design. The satisfaction of mastering a level or acquiring a new skill within the game are things you can attribute to the effort and time users invest, and that’s much like the satisfaction they’d get from assembling a product. 

Active participation: Just as the IKEA effect values active involvement in product assembly, gamification benefits from active user participation. Getting users involved in tasks, challenges and interactive activities raises the level of their engagement—and the value they perceive of the experience. 

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

The IKEA effect plays a very important role in the success of customizable products because of several factors, and these include: 

Increased perceived value: When users invest time and effort into customizing a product, they tend to value it more than they would a comparable, ready-made product.  

Emotional attachment: Customization lets users imprint a part of their identity onto the product—personalization that gives them a stronger emotional connection, since the product becomes a reflection of the user's choices and creativity. 

Sense of achievement: The process of customizing and creating a unique product gives users a real sense of achievement. They feel proud of their creation—valuing it and enjoying a positive overall experience, too. 

Enhanced user experience: Customizable products cater to individual preferences—so letting users tailor the product to their own specific needs and tastes. That bolsters the user experience and makes the product more relevant and appealing to them. 

Brand loyalty and advocacy: Products that successfully get the IKEA effect to work for them through customization can foster greater brand loyalty among their users. Satisfied customers are more likely to become repeat buyers—and recommend the product to others. 

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 products that are more engaging. 

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.  

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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