The Ikea Effect

Your constantly-updated definition of The Ikea Effect and collection of videos and articles

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 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.

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 The Ikea Effect with our course Emotional Design — How to Make Products People Will Love .

What separates great products from good ones? Attractive designs? User testing? Genius designers? Well, these might be contributory factors, but the true distinction lies in how they make users feel. Every experience has an emotional component, and using products is no different. Incorporating emotion should therefore be a key consideration when designing products or websites. This course will provide you with an understanding of emotional responses and how to create designs that encourage them.

An understanding of emotional design—how users feel and what affects these feelings—is essential if you want to provide great user experiences. There are probably things near you right now that are not necessarily the best, and they might not even be particularly attractive, but you are nonetheless still using them. Take a seashell from your favorite beach, or your very first tennis racket, for example; they are meaningful to you, and you consequently feel a connection to them. These connections are powerful; they subconsciously affect you and have the capacity to turn inanimate objects into evocative extensions of you as an individual.

In this course, we will provide you with the information necessary to elicit such positive emotional experiences through your designs. Human-computer interaction (HCI) specialist Alan Dix provides video content for each of the lessons, helping to crystallize the information covered throughout the course. By the end of it, you will have a better understanding of the relationship between people and the things they use in their everyday lives and, more importantly, how to design new products and websites which elicit certain emotional responses.

All open-source articles on The Ikea Effect

Please check the value and try again.

Open Access - Link to us!

We believe in Open Access and the democratization of knowledge. Unfortunately, world class educational materials such as this page are normally hidden behind paywalls or in expensive textbooks.

If you want this to change, , link to us, or join us to help democratize design knowledge!