So, your Billy Bookcase set has a missing piece…
a. Start building, get 95% through, then realise and drop to your knees in defeat?
b. Immediately call Customer Support and attempt to remain friendly, despite the searing rage hidden only slightly beneath the surface?
or c. Curse the IKEA Gods and find the nearest roll of duct tape?
All frustration considered. That wonky, duct-tape wrapped piece of furniture you saved will become an object of greater value to you. You created this- and now, like clockwork, you’ll sit back and admire that object you’ve been sweating over for the past couple of hours.
”The Fruit of Your Labour”
Founded in 1943, Ikea became both a worldwide giant and household name. So much so, that the psychological phenomenon associated with this love humans have of our own self-assembled furniture (and anything else we’ve made, whether it’s well-assembled or not) was christened with it’s name.
People attach greater value to things they built than if the very same product was built by someone else. This feeling of completion brings with it a sense of pride and competence, and also (in your own eyes, at least) signals to others that you are competent.
Ikea Founder, Ingvar Kamprad, built a wildly successful business, off of the back of this Cognitive Bias.
The Customer (Post-Purchase) Journey
This is for good reason. There’s a visible ‘friction’ in the Ikea customer experience that feels almost intentionally woven into the process.
Rather than making retail as frictionless as possible like it’s counterparts, Ikea seems to have mapped out the in-store journey of their customer- using this ‘friction’. It brings a commitment of Effort (or, “Labour”)– which produces more memorable and rewarding experiences for it’s patrons.
Where the many visualisations of the IKEA in-store experiences end, the journey I’ve chosen to map out starts.
Once the family leaves the store with cart stacked with brown cardboard boxes. They heave them into their car and carry them back to their home with a distinct feeling of accomplishment (assuming they don’t take the delivery option, of course). The next point of friction in the journey begins there- and continues in an area I’ve called The Buyer’s Gap…
“Everyone has an Ikea Horror Story.”
For some, myself included, Ikea’s wordless construction manuals are works of genius- but for many- they’ve become a source of confusion and frustration.
“A newspaper in Sweden described Ikea (furniture assembly) as something between civil engineering and captaining a submarine, and I think that’s a good description,”
Allan Dickner, IKEA, Deputy Packaging Manager
The Assembly Instructions: Love them, or hate them
According to Jan Fredlund, an Instruction Designer at IKEA, there are two guiding principles within every page of a designed instruction booklet: Clarity and Continuity.
Ikea has christened their instruction designers “Communicators”. There is a deep process in building these manuals that always begins with an important step: User Testing. Communicators start by putting a Product together themselves.
“Test assembly provides an opportunity to find out if there is a risk that the customer might place a certain part in the wrong direction which may not look like an obvious mistake in the moment, but will cause a problem many steps later,”
Jan Fredlund, IKEA, Instruction Designer — Communicator
The Frame-by-frame, Lego-like illustrations are based on construction drawings, digital snapshots, 3-D models, and videos of test assemblies. Each successive picture is rendered from a single, unchanging point-of-view (mimicking that of the customer). Ikea seeks to avoid confusion in their customers with rotations or perspective changes. Orientation is key as the customers move back and forth between booklet and assembling.
The sheer level of rationality, thought and sympathy that goes into these manuals by design is incredible. Yet still, despite all the efforts by the Communicators and Packaging Engineers- there are still many who struggle to comprehend the wordless instructions.
The written manual has already been simplified down to it’s essence. Each tool and part is enumerated. Each step is isolated and defined in a mindful one step at a time process. Right and wrong are clearly illustrated with line-drawn figures. Without a single letter of type. In this way, the product becomes accessible to speakers of any language, any level, any skill. The instructions serve all equally.
So, amidst all of the online complaints, joking and memes, I began to ask:-
How can I make a system already designed for clarity, that people still manage to struggle with, even clearer?
Talking to the Users — Quantitative
The first and second questions were a simple Yes/No response —
- “Do you have previous experience assembling flatpack furniture?”
- “Have you ever purchased and assembled an IKEA product?”
Having confirmed the user as a member of IKEA’s audience- I asked the third, now that I have some context of the individual providing their opinion:
- “How easy is it for you to follow a set of IKEA assembly instructions?”
This question was formed of 5 options, a sliding scale of “Totally clear” to “Extremely difficult”. The result communicated to me that a large majority of my sample group either have extreme difficulty or some confusion while following the illustrated assembly instructions.
Semi-structured Interviews — Qualitative
My favourite step in the research process was interviewing users of the product.
Focusing my questions around coaxing stories of previous IKEA assembly experiences from my sample group (5+ people)- I managed to gain some clarity on the problem- and validation for my solutions:
“I’ve definitely put together several. I think the worst is the few times when the kit was missing some essential part. Or the big things- I put together a bed with storage shelves that was a million steps and took all day.”
From this particular interview, I took away the fact that having some idea of how long the assembly should take- and how many steps there are- could prepare a customer before undertaking the assembly process. “The devil you know…” as they say. Priming them for a long day, if need-be.
“Literally spent the weekend putting IKEA stuff together. Well easy to follow the instructions, way more so than other flat pack furniture”
“I think I may be a freak of nature who thoroughly enjoys putting together IKEA furniture! I find their instructions very clear and love the process.”
Interviewing clarified for me that people with previous experience assembling flat-pack furniture from both IKEA and other companies, have a point of reference to understand the quality and attention that goes into an IKEA instruction manual, as well as a broad understanding of the process itself.
How is IKEA already trying to solve this struggle?
And is there even a reason, or need, for them to?
To Create a Better Everyday Life For the Many People
– IKEA’s Mission Statement Source
IKEA’s business appears somewhat simple at first glance. They provide a range of affordable home furnishing products. But their aim is to give everyone, the many, access to sustainable, functional, high-quality furnishing. The many, not just the few.
Using this mission as a basis, accessibility is the aim. If there are some who find the product inaccessible due to difficulties with assembly- IKEA is working to bring access to them, also.
But, by out-sourcing the assembly, essentially removing a part of the “Labour of Love” aspect in assembling, will that remove “The IKEA Effect” from the equation also?