The IKEA Test

Quick Read: Well let’s just say that if IKEA had considered opening a couples’ relationship counselling centre at each of its stores, it might give the couples’ counsellors a run for their money! 

If there were to be a prep school for wannabe couples, the final test for graduation could argaubly be throwing them at the task of shopping for furniture… together.

Full discosure: Mrs and I somehow aced that test – though she derives an indescribable pleasure everytime she sees this PepperFry commercial.

No wonder then IKEA is parodied to be the #1 place where couples could realise that they actually can’t stand each other!

Probably armed with this insight, Ramani Durvasula – a California-based clinical psychologist is actually using IKEA shopping runs as a communications exercise for her couples therapy. (H/T Racked)

Ask her if IKEA is a domestic wonderland or a map of a relationship nightmare, and you are told that it could be the later. In fact, according to this WSJ report, she thinks the Ikea shopping experience is fraught with anxiety for couples, for example the kitchen models can lead to arguments about who doesn’t do the dishes and so forth.

Speaking of which, doing dishes could be a seperate thesis altogether on the perils of matrimony.

Actually make it ‘doing dishes’ + ‘trying to own the remote’ and you could have a perfect reciple for domestic disaster.

This commercial for Pril dishwashing liquid is a little undiscovered gem along those lines (though it could be accused of packing a little too many of a punch in one single ad).

(sorry non Hindi readers, wish there were sub titles)

And by the way there even seems to be a compelling case that says  – when in need of a marriage therapy, just do the dishes!

So the next time someone tells you that brands could do with some insights from ethnographic and psycho-analytical research. Tell them that the later could also be true.

[Bonus (and unrelated) Read: Nearly 3 years ago, BrandedNoise featured a post called ‘The IKEA Effect‘]

(Featured Image: Rashid and Shirley Smith got married at the IKEA in Elizabeth, N.J., in 2013. Source)

Block By Block – A Consumption Focused Design Paradigm

It took more than a 100 years for inkjet printers to become commercially viable. The reason?

Severe interdependence of the components and underlying systems. 

For e.g., even with the slightest change in the chemistry of the ink, the composition of the resistors had to be changed, and this potentially impacted the physical layout of the circuits and so on.  The solution for this?  Modularity of design. 

Wikipedia defines modularity as ..

 the degree to which a system’s components may be separated and recombined.

Today most tools, gadgets, processes, systems, structures, designs that we interact with on a daily basis have modularity built from deep within. Right from the nuts and bolts of a system to the way it has possibly been put together on an assembly/production line, modularity is all pervasive.

In fact it is almost accepted wisdom now among designers and manufacturers that the speed at which an innovation can be commercialized is directly proportional to the speed at which the underlying design (of the system) and the process (of the assembly or integration) is standardized and modularized.

Now consider the above statement in conjunction with the following self explanatory paradigm of Design Thinking evangelized by IDEO, called the Desirability – Viability – Feasibility triad of innovation design. 


Based on the above two, my hypothesis is the following:

While modularity in the context of production has almost proven itself to be a pre-requisite for establishing technical feasibility and – in many cases – for driving business viability of a given innovation , modularity in the context of consumption – if done right – can have far reaching implications in seeding the attributes of human desirability for the same.  

Three recent examples that seem to suggest the compelling potential for modularity in the context of consumption as a design paradigm:

(1) Phoneblok: Most of us, by now, would have seen this short video on the idea of building a phone with modular detachable blocks. This  presents the idea of Phonebloks –  hailed as a radical vision of what tech could be. The idea for me, is sheer ingenuity and insight. The possibilities  of such a consumer focused modularity in design seem to be truly empowering and liberating.

(2) NoFlo – A Flow Based Development Environment: The philosophy of Modular Programming is the default standard in most coding systems. But this modularity was mostly – for lack of a better term – limited to the realm of abstraction and ideation, since the corresponding code nevertheless lends itself as ‘strings of spaghetti’ and presents challenges for debugging compilation and logic errors.   With NoFlow as a development environment, modularity can be made more tangible and actionable in order to help inform, structure, design, test, debug and implement a complete software package.  The following is the video put together by the team for their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds (the funding was successful!).

(3) Modularity in content consumption: Unleashing the power of modularity in the domain of content consumption is in fact the name of the emerging game. Platform agnosticism is one of the many ways in which modularity lends itself in the consumption context for services like Amazon, Youtube and now Dropbox.  The latest edition of WIRED in fact features a fantastic story on  Dropbox’s radical plan for a future where “the gadgets are dumb, the features are smart, and data trumps devices.”


So there we have, emerging examples of modularity in the context of consumption (as opposed to only production) and how they promise to pan out in mobile, software design environments and cloud based architectures. Something for the technology powerhouses to sit up and take note? In fact in a recent interview with Forbes Clayton Christensen worries about Apple saying Modularity Always defeats Integration! 

Even in life as usual as we know it, no matter what we do from fixing a meal, concocting a cocktailassembling a piece of furniture, to laying out our Google Newsfeed, there’s always been a sense of joy, an inexplicable sense of desirability that we had for our stuff, for after all, it was our creation.  Step by step. Block by block. Isn’t it?

(Source for the featured image)

Nespresso – An Unsustainable Business Model?

 Single-serving coffee made at home.  That’s the category Nespresso operates in – a segment estimated to be 8 billion USD in 2012 (source).


Some laudable facts regarding Nespresso to start with:

  •  It took 30 years for Nespresso to get to where it is now.
  • Their first patent was registered in 1976 and it was launched internationally in 1991.
  • As of 2012,  their concept (machine, capsule, service) is subject to 1,700 patents.
  • Features celebrities, such as George Clooney and John Malkovich, as brand ambassadors.
  • At 55 cents for a 4-g capsule, Nespresso coffee works out to a nerve-jangling $62 per lb. ($137 per kg). And the hefty markup doesn’t seem to bother its fans.
  • Is rumored to command gross margins at about 85%, compared with 40% to 50% for regular drip-coffee brands.
  • The company confirmed that  Nespresso is targeting to grow sales by around half a billion francs in 2013.

(sources for the above information: 1, 2, 3, 4)

As a brand, Nespresso has been vaunted as the “Apple of coffee pods” riding high on the classic razor/razor-blade business model – otherwise called as the Vendor Lock In business model.  See an informative video here on the specifics of the Nespresso business model using the framework of Business Model Canvas.

Nespresso Business Model

Now the not so good news for Nespresso is the emergence of nearly 100 competitors around the world including 50 that claim compatibility with the Nespresso system (many of Nespresso’s patents have expired in 2012).  A more recent Reuters report on the latest threat to Nespresso from Mondelez…

Mondelez International, the world’s second-biggest coffee maker, is going head to head with larger rival Nestle by launching capsules compatible with its Nespresso system to steal a share of the premium coffee market.

The capsules will be sold under the Jacobs and Carte Noire brands in many EU markets in the second half of 2013 – the biggest challenge yet for the $4.4 billion (2.8 billion pounds) Nespresso brand that has sued many copycats.

These are just the warning bells for the company as many more brands jump onto the bandwagon of this fast growing coffee segment.

David Taylor on the brandgym blog posits that these moves can be in the larger interest of Nespresso as long as it ensures the following:

  • Benefit from market growth: Even if Nespresso’s share drops, sales can still increase if the market is growing.
  • Keep product quality up: Continue offering a better coffee experience through its select blend of coffee.
  • “Load” existing customers: Defend against the Mondelez launch by loading its existing customers with product, and so taking them out of the market.
  • Drive distribution: Drive distribution in new channels. e.g., store-within-store formats.
  • Tell a product story:  have a bit more product “sausage” to complement the emotional “sizzle”

I would however beg to disagree here, as I suspect if the current business model can be sustainable in the long term. And my argument is equally applicable to the Tassimo’s, Dolce Gusto’s, Keurig’s and Verismo’s of the world. Why?

Insight #1: Which business are the Nespresso’s of the world actually  into

These brands are not in the business of delivering convenient, barista like coffee at home. Instead they are in the business of making cup after cup of a consistent brew of coffee on demand with consistent being the operative word. Guardian reports

..while pod machines might not make great coffee, they do make a consistent cup. This is making them irresistible to high-end restaurants…. Nespresso machines can now be found in the kitchens of around 30% of the world’s 2,400 Michelin-starred restaurants. The appeal is obvious –they’re consistent, cheaper than hiring a barista and take up less space than a traditional espresso machine.

Insight #2: What can I learn from a cup of Starbucks coffee that bears my name? 

One thing I enjoy the most whenever I queue up at a Starbucks for my cuppa is eavesdropping on how different people want their coffee to be customized (a Quadriginoctuple Frappucino anyone?) and finally seeing them hold on to the cup with their name scribbled on it with an affection and warmth that comes out of familiarity and a sense of having co-created the cup coffee (by the sheer act of asking for a slightly personalized brew!)

The scribbled name on the cup just seals the deal in a magical way.  (speak about The IKEA Effect)


Now based on these 2 insights…

What if a ‘coffee pod’ sets up a unique proposition of designing a one of its kind, exclusive and a truly unique coffee blend concocted to your minutest specifications and delivered it to you as your own coffee pod  (like that cup of starbucks with your name on it) for you to be able to enjoy this very same cup of coffee day after day using the machine back home?

The benefits are obvious: enduring consumer relationships, deeper consumer insights, a treasure trove of data on how people love their coffee, a truly unique blend that only you can deliver, resulting in pods that consumers are willing to pay a premium for and finally pods that cannot be easily replicated by the “me too’s” of the world.

Speak about infusing authenticity to the  vendor lock in business model.

The 12 Most Viewed Posts of 2012


The following blog posts received the top 12 pageviews at BrandedNoise in 2012.

1. The Power of Imagination. Unleashed

2. The Best Touch Points for Marketing Fabric Conditioners in India

3. Colors

4. Minimalism and Apple

5. Marmite, Mouthwash and Microsoft

6. 100 Days of Branded White

7. The IKEA Effect

8. Pulling the Triggers on Behavior

9. The Most Iconic Photograph Ever –  On Perspectives

10. The Uninvited Design – Agencies Beware

11. The Job Hunt – Part 1/3

12. Targeted Sampling

The IKEA Effect

Betty Crocker learnt it the hard way, but it was arguably one of the first to know it.

It’s a classic case study – a number of years ago Betty Crocker had noticed their consumers feeling a bit guilty to be using its Instant Cake Mixes. Since all they needed to do was add water before putting in the oven in order to make a cake, it gave them a feeling of not working enough to show their love and care for their family. So what did Betty Crocker do? It made the process of cake making a ‘bit more complicated’. Betty Crocker changed its recipe in such a way that it requires the consumer to add an egg as well! Result? The mixes began to get sold like hot cakes! The secret? It was found that the consumers liked the new cake mixes better, because the slightly ‘complicated’ process (of adding an egg) made them feel that they were actually contributing something to the meal.

The insight: Things seem better if you have to work for it. Apparently a name has been coined for this off late and it’s called The IKEA Effect –  essentially it refers to the disproportionate sense of pride and ownership that we feel for objects on which we have lavished our own labor, however intrinsically simple the work, like say assembling a piece of IKEA Furniture.

Dan Ariely from HBS is one of the co-authors of the paper titled by the same name. Following is a 5 mins video of him expounding a bit further on this theory:

Things indeed seem better if you have to work for it. Fantastic Delites – an Australian Snack Foods brand recently used this insight to device a vending machine. The following video shows the concept it greater detail. This was part of their integrated campaign called “How Far Will You Go For Fantastic Delites?”

The IKEA Effect is busy at work in the digital sphere too. Let’s take Pinterest, the online pinboard that lets you organize and share things you love. It’s essentially a social network that is built over the concept of ‘content curation’. The thing here is that the user need not necessarily create her own content like say blogs or portfolios in order to pin it on their boards. All you need to do is:

  • Create and name a Pinboard
  • And just continue your browsing..
  • Should you find any pic/video of interest, just ‘pin’ it on your board

The interesting thing to note here is the process of pinning is devised to hit the sweet spot of being simple enough for anyone to follow and ‘complicated’ enough to elicit your ‘IKEA Effect’. Result? The more you pin, the more your interest, effort and time are vested in the network, making it much more valuable to you (and thereby the advertisers!). exemplifies it even more directly. It is essentially a digital scrap book and social network for kids.

The premise? Simple. Every parent loves her kid’s creations and loves even more to flaunt these to their near and dear –  a sketch, a piece of origami, a painting, a piece of craft – virtually anything that the kids make with their own hands. Enter a fantastic concept that:

  • Gets kids on board a social network in a creative / constructive way
  • Gets parents to help their kids curate the content and share it in the social network

And that’s it! You just let the IKEA Effect lose in a parent-children equation. And the magic unfolds by itself. No wonder it is chronicled by the likes of FastCompany and PSFK and slated to be one of the most potent social networking sites to watch out for.

Any other interesting examples of The IKEA Effect in action?