Join William Lidwell for an in-depth discussion in this video IKEA effect, part of Universal Principles of Design.
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- Hi, I'm William Lidwell and this is Universal Principles of Design. In this movie, the IKEA Effect: Why Sometimes You Need to Break an Egg. As early as the 1920s, American food manufacturers were hard at work trying to reduce the time and effort required to make a good cake. But it was not until the late '40s that the right combination of simplicity, flavor, and shelf life was achieved in instant cake mixes.
All ingredients were included, all you needed to do was just add water. Early sales were promising but the stalled in the mid 1950s and nobody really understood why. General Mills commissioned the psychologist, Ernest Dichter to study the problem. You've probably not heard of Dichter before but you may have heard the term focus group, well, Dichter coined that term. Anyway, some analysis, Dichter concluded that the problem was that the cake mixes were too easy, too instant, that is, they were so simple that people did not feel like they were baking a cake at all.
There was emotional investment or rewards in the process, no sense of ownership. They might as well have been buying pre-made cakes at the store. Dichter's solution? In addition to adding water, require bakers to break a couple of eggs to make the cake. This, he reasoned, would make people feel more connected with the creative process, it would make them feel more like chefs. And in short, it worked. Sales shot up. Now, there's some controversy around this because Dichter followed up with another recommendation that was even more effective at making people feel more like chefs.
He recommended General Mills really play up the icing of the cake, its decoration, in the baking process and marketing. This too, increased sales. And not only did it dramatically increase the creativity of cake making, paving the way for cake decoration as a true art form, the heavily sugared icing helped overwhelm some of the chemical tasting preservatives in the mixes. Whether it was requiring the breaking of an egg or playing up the decoration angle, we today know why these strategies worked.
It even has a name, the IKEA Effect. So what is the IKEA Effect? In short the act of creating a thing increases the perceived value of that thing to the creator. And it turns out that partially creating a thing, meaning finishing something that's basically 80% complete, like an instant cake or furniture from IKEA, also makes it more valuable to the creator. More valuable meaning people are willing to pay more for products they create than equivalent preassembled products.
And people value things they personally create as much as if an expert had created them. In general, the level of contribution in creating something corresponds to its level of valuation. High contribution translates into high valuation. And low contribution translates into low valuation. But if the effort required is too great or the contribution is too small, then people don't finish and the IKEA Effect only holds when tasks are completed.
That's the trick. That's why finding the sweet spot, the egg, so to speak, between the actual level of effort and the preceived level of contribution is key. Ideally, you want a low level of effort but a high level of perceived contribution. That combo is the Holy Grail of the IKEA Effect. So whether you apply the IKEA Effect to make your designs more appealing, to engage people in the design, marketing, and testing of your products, or to increase the sense of product ownership and brand loyalty of your users, remember, to make a product successful, sometimes you need to get people to break an egg.