Lars Damgaard
strategic user experience designer
June 9th 2014

Can the digital IKEA effect increase user engagement and brand loyalty?

According to behavioral scientists Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely, people who participate in the creation of something tend to evaluate what they have created more positively than they would have done if they had not participated in it. This is referred to as the IKEA effect.

The IKEA effect

On a personal note, I find it odd because most people I know, including myself, really hate assembling stuff from IKEA, but the overall argument is interesting:

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—the increase in valuation of self-made products. 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.


In other words, people tend to like stuff when they have invested time and energy in creating it themselves. This simple piece of thick data could be very useful when designing digital experiences, especially if you aim strategically to engage your users.

The digital IKEA effect and why it’s likely to increase user engagement and brand loyalty

The UX implications of the IKEA effect are vast. The first thing that came to my mind is that UX designers fall victim of the IKEA effect all the time: don’t we often think our designs are better than they actually are, simply because we put a lot of effort into them? Which is why we should do this but that’s another story.

The IKEA effect could also be seen as a strong argument for user driven design, but the following perspective is even more interesting from a strategic point of view: the fact that people like to build, create, co-create and perhaps even customize stuff can be used in digital product design as a way of providing a delightful and highly customized user experience (creating value for the user) while at the same time increasing the bond between brand and users (creating value for the brand). A digital IKEA effect if you like.

Winamp — It really whips the llama’s ass! Especially when customized.

One of my first experiences with the digital IKEA effect were the skins of Winamp. My favorite skin was one that mimicked the design of a NAD stereo. It looked a bit cooler than the one below, but you probably get the idea.


I hadn’t created it myself, but the simple fact that it felt customized for me and my personal taste in hi-fi design and the fact that I had found it myself was enough to make me stick to Winamp for a lot longer than I would probably otherwise have done. If you never used Winamp you might wonder what the whole “It really whips the llama’s ass!” that I refer to in the heading is all about: they were the words in the demo sound file that shipped with Winamp.

Netflix, Spotify and The Guardian all aim for a digital IKEA effect

When I think about the contemporary digital products I enjoy the most and engage with most actively, they all seem to have some degree of personalization or customization to them that keeps amplifying my engagement and loyalty: Every time I add a movie to “my list” or get a good algorithmic recommendation, I become a bit more committed to Netflix and less likely to switch to competitors. Every time I create a new playlist, I become a bit more committed to Spotify and less likely to switch to competitors – and so on.

A recent example that really takes advantage of the digital IKEA effect is the Guardian’s new mobile app and new website that (among other things) lets you customize your content experience. I spent about 30 seconds removing the Sports section from my personalized front page and adding some content keywords and already I felt way more committed than I did just 30 seconds earlier. The screenshot below is from the mobile iPhone app before customization.


My argument is that the kind of commitment that can be achieved by acknowledging a digital IKEA effect is a strong asset for strategic product designers. If put on top of a good core product, it’s likely to increase user engagement and brand loyalty considerably.

Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think on twitter.

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