Designing Gadgets to Be DIY Will Make Us Love Them Even More
How do you make people think something is more valuable than it is? Rhinestones? Faux-gold leaf? Turns out that the answer is far less labor-intensive—at least for the manufacturer. The answer is making things a little more DIY.
Why should we do this? Because of something called the “Ikea Effect.” A few years ago, a team of researchers did a series of studies where they found that when people built things themselves—whether it was a Lego structure or a piece of Ikea furniture—they tended to perceive those things as being more valuable. In fact, people were generally willing to pay more money for items they had built. The researchers dubbed this the Ikea Effect. Intuitively, it makes sense: after putting time and effort into building something, its value to us increases. As a researcher and strategist for Artefact, I have found this effect to be true.
Of course, Ikea isn’t the only brand to tap into the benefits of “build it yourself” as a defining element of their product offerings. Build-A-Bear has turned purchasing a teddy bear into an entire building experience, worthy of children’s birthday parties. A growing number of meal preparation stores, like Dinner By Design, invite customers to assemble the ingredients they’ll need for a meal and then go home to complete the cooking process. And those are just two of a growing number of examples.
What does the Ikea Effect mean for product and service designers? By having users build a piece of a product or service, it’s possible we could get them to think of the product or service as being more valuable than they otherwise would. Imagine leaving it up to users to assemble part of the next camera or mobile app we launch? Or inviting consumers to take a more hands-on role in creating a service experience at their local bank or airport check-in counter. In today’s constant upgrade cycle, forming stronger connections with the product could mean longer-term engagement and stronger brand loyalty tomorrow.
When it comes to taking advantage of the Ikea Effect in the new products and services we design, here are some Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind.
Do involve users in building or assembling part of a product
This is true even if there’s no customization involved. People don’t have to be doing particularly skill-intensive tasks (like coding an app or wiring up a wearable device) to get the benefits of the Ikea Effect—an approach can be as simple as involving people in assembling a product for eventual use. In the Ikea Effect experiments, people were assembling generic products without putting any personal touch on them. Yet they still felt that the products had more value when they were done.
Two years ago at Artefact, we set out to bring our resource management tool, 10,000ft, to market and we used this approach to give the early adopters a feeling of ownership over the product as we finalized its development. That was not the only reason why 10,000ft has proven to be so successful, but it was this initial involvement that made our first customers feel like stakeholders and amplified their perceived value of the tool. Imagine extending this type of co-creation to a broader audience, beyond just early adopters, to everyday consumers?
Don’t make the assembly too complicated
It’s important to make sure we’re setting people up for success. The same researchers who uncovered the Ikea Effect found that when people only partially completed the assembly, the effect didn’t occur. The DIY part of an experience needs to be designed to minimize failure and to ensure people complete the task. With that in mind, the instructions we provide should be intuitive, clear and well-tested. Finding the right balance will be particularly important for technology products that could be perceived as quite complex. It’s not unheard of to see a decline in sales and reputation from a painful set-up process that makes customers feel like failures – and the more DIY we introduce into the process, the more we run this risk.
When we designed Juice Box, our concept for an open energy system that allows people in developing countries to capture energy from multiple sources, we wanted to come up with a solution that would give people the flexibility to use the system it in a variety of circumstances. Making the system easy for users to put together, however, was key. Successful DIY setup served the dual purpose of both facilitating customization as well as reducing intimidation people might feel with a new tool like Juice Box.
Do set consumer expectations in advance
The way we evaluate our experiences is often related to whether or not they lived up to our prior expectations. Imagine purchasing an expensive appliance and then finding out you had to build part of the appliance yourself in order for it to work—you might be a little peeved, especially if you assumed it was going to be ready-to-use right out of the box. If we’re going to introduce a DIY component to our product or service offerings, we have to set consumer expectations in advance. In the case of Ikea, self-assembly is well-publicized and often seen as a trade-off for the brand’s low prices, and people’s expectations are set accordingly when they go into the store.
When we created the Engineering EduKit, we purposefully positioned the entire offering as a toolkit to help teachers and educators assemble their own engaging lesson plans. The branding and communication design were meant to reinforce the DIY nature of the kit itself, and help set appropriate user expectations.
Don’t expect too much
Not everyone will be willing to build (or excited about building) something themselves.
We need to understand how much DIY is too much DIY, and when users start to get irritated. There’s likely a fine line to uncover, which may vary depending on the audience before we hurdle all of our designs in the direction of “some (or lots of) assembly required.” Fortunately, researchers found that people don’t have to identify as “do-it-yourselfers” for the Ikea Effect to have an impact.
It’s possible that for some audiences, though, DIY will be so unappealing that they’ll be dissuaded from making a purchase–and for those consumers, we may want to have an alternative, or default, offering available. This was the approach we took when we were working with SonoSite to set the direction for the UX design of their flagship touch-enabled ultrasound device, the SonoSite X-Porte. Although a clinic or department can make customizations to the UI to align it better with their practice, the default UI of the SonoSite X-Porte is based on deep industry understanding, making it relevant to the broadest base of users even if they decide to forgo customization.
The audience for DIY projects today is rapidly growing. Thanks to a variety of websites and YouTube videos, mail-order project boxes, and increasingly affordable technologies like 3D printing, doing-it-yourself is indeed more doable than ever before. And we’re not just talking about making your own homemade candles here: you can make your own shoes, build your own cellphone, or even create your own robot without needing in-depth domain expertise. As designers, we have an opportunity to take advantage of these technologies and platforms that are making DIY more accessible in the way we incorporate “build it yourself” into our own work.
Moving beyond the realm of product and service assembly, we can also imagine extending DIY into broader domains, like education or healthcare. If you swab your own nose for a flu diagnosis, would you place more value on actively managing your health? If you set up a combination of health-tracking sensors to monitor your body, would you value the resulting data more than if it was just handed to you? We have a hunch this might be the case, and it’s one of the reasons why when we were designing Dialog, our concept for people with epilepsy, we did not lean toward a fully automated data solution.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I moved back to the US after two years away and needed new furniture, so, naturally, we wound up at IKEA. I’m a long-time fan of the Swedish retailer’s affordable, take-it-home-the-same-day furnishings. And I take pride in my ability to turn a flat-packed pile of particle board into a functioning dresser with a mere Allen wrench. Now that what we bought is built and set up, I’m really happy with our purchases; they look a lot more expensive than what I actually paid for them. Then again, maybe that’s just the Ikea Effect talking.
A version of this article originally appeared on WIRED.