Unleash the IKEA Effect

How does IKEA get people to feel such love for the bland chipboard furniture they drag home from their monstrous stores?

An army of psychologists work for IKEA and a second army of psychologists have set about dismantling the many quirks of human psychology that are exploited by the Swedish mega brand. One particular trick they use is so effective that it, above all others, is known as THE IKEA EFFECT.

Or rather, to express that in a suitably chilling font....


One superficially dystopian aspect of IKEA is that they don't even sell you the furniture you inspect. There's a bait-and-switch where the furniture you first see is fully assembled. But the furniture you buy is just a flatpack and a series of word less instructions.

This problem is, however, not a problem. This is the company's greatest strength.

What is the IKEA effect?

the increase in valuation of self-made products

Research published as The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love by Norton, Michael I., Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely, from "the Journal of Consumer Psychology" (2012) and freely available online under an Open Access Policy.

In four studies in which consumers assembled IKEA boxes, folded origami, and built sets of Legos, we demonstrate and investigate boundary conditions for the IKEA effect. Participants saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts' creations, and expected others to share their opinions. We show that labor leads to love only when labor results in successful completion of tasks; when participants built and then destroyed their creations, or failed to complete them, the IKEA effect dissipated. Finally, we show that labor increases valuation for both “do-it-yourselfers” and novices.

When you make something for yourself, you value it more highly than you would if someone else assembled it.


The study goes even further. When the intructions are poor, and result in a worse final outcome, you value the item even more highly: the extra effort you expended to create the item means your sense of value is even more skewed.

Some assembly required

This same effect may mean that people who spend time configuring their tools (e.g. emacs, vim, bash, powershell, motorbikes, spouses) may develop a stronger attachment for their tools than people whose tools permit no tinkering.

What does this mean for product creators?

If possible, creating a wonderful apple-esque unboxing experience. But don't be afraid if the customer has to perform some custom manual steps themselves. In those moments of connection between the person and their product, they will increase the feelings of ownership and engagement and swell with pride as they think "No one clicks a few buttons quite as nicely as me."

My book "Choose Your First Product" is available now.

It gives you 4 easy steps to find and validate a humble product idea.

Learn more.