IKEA Furniture is the World's Best Gamificated Product.

Why does IKEA leads the furniture market letting the most crytical part in the customer's hands? I don't know if gamification is the answer but we can be sure it helps. Learn the game design secrets of furniture building here.

Foreseeing the long hours locked up at home because of the coronavirus quarantine I decided to place a huge order with IKEA so, while I'm furnishing my home I’m also entertaining myself. And the interesting thing here is not my decision to set my home up instead of wasting my time, but to realize that it really entertains to assemble Ikea furniture. 

We Ikea users are happy to assemble the furniture ourselves. Automation, immediate home delivery, and basically not doing anything have gone from being added values to essential features in any product or sales portal, while something that seems to swim against the tide in today's society has become a desirable step in the process. Can you imagine having to build your own washing machine after you buy it? What is the difference between a vacuum cleaner and a Fjälbo shelf?

All of this is what I pondered while realizing that I had built a Brimnes shelf upside down.

The best examples of gamification are not games.

Gamification is about learning what video games do innately. But video games do achieve many things, and among them, if you're lucky, they manage to entertain. The main job of video games is to achieve positive feelings in the player, even resorting to generate negative feelings so that the positive ones that come after are even more intense. 

All the resources they use for this are perfectly transportable to other areas, including the analog world. And it is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of many companies to gamify without approaching the concept of "game".

So why do we want to do ourselves what we can't even imagine doing with other products?


Step #1: The value of what is mine

The feeling of possession is an obsession of game designers. And not only in video games, it is the concept behind the wide range of colours available for a car or a kitchen blender. The same concept on which fashion stores or pizzeria menus are based: as soon as the customer chooses, the feeling of ownership multiplies. I have imagined this combination, I have devised this mix, I have chosen from these options and I have chosen well. So now this is mine. Even if it's a sardine, pineapple and peach pizza. Especially if it's a pizza that strange, because it's mine and nobody else's.

If I'm building my desk, it's not the desk I bought at Ikea, it's my desk. With my door that squeaks because I screwed it on wrong, the drawer that's hard to open and the knock on the side I gave it when I was building it. But I smile when I see all those things because those same flaws make my desk unique, because they are my own flaws.


Step #2: The illusion of choice

And possession comes hand in hand with personalization. Video game projection consists of forgetting that we live in a house, we go to work every day and that the shower drips to really believe that we live in a castle, we march into battle on the back of a horse called Thunder and the leaks are made by us but in the heads of our enemies instead. Projecting means bringing the player's mind to the head of its protagonist and the best way to achieve this is for the player to actually see himself in that character. And since the artist doesn't know what millions of players look like, the best thing is that each one creates his avatar as he wishes.

Choice is power. To be able to choose is to live, and to live choosing is to live well. Even though that choice is an illusion and today you have chosen to buy almond milk instead of normal one but damn, how good it is and what a good job you have done choosing it. And what a good job you've done choosing among the three colors available for the Odensvik faucet because now the drawers match the towels. It really shows that you have the reins of your life.


Step #3: The homogeneity of the mechanics

What would it be like to go to work and have everyone magically speak a different language every week? Trying to learn as much as possible to avoid being fired, to speak a little on Friday and to start all over again on Monday. It would be hell.

The human being needs to stop focusing on the basics in order to concentrate on the nuances, and the details are usually the most pleasant things. A professional pianist has long since stopped paying attention to the angle of his arms and no longer even has to place them, as they go to the optimal place by themselves. We work well because we have learned well and we stopped learning long ago to focus on doing things well.

The mechanics, what we can do, must be as homogeneous and less numerous as possible in order to do them well. And this, most probably, is one of the greatest virtues of Ikea furniture: they are all assembled in the same way.

Not only you need like only three tools, Ikea always works with the same repetitive actions: Screw in, nail a wooden block next to it, place the pieces together and put the lock on. And so on. If you have assembled one, you have assembled them all. What at first seemed like a major challenge is transformed into something as simple as assembling a toy from a Kinder Egg. Inside the Ikea boxes there are no surprises, no headaches, no mysterious pieces that I don't know how to fit. 

"Wow, honey! Did you assemble all the furniture in the living room by yourself? Impressive!"

"Heh, you know I'm a handyman."


Step #4: Do the furniture dream of wooden sheep?

What did my house on Sunday morning and the Miami zoo had in common? The reason my books are placed neat and this monkey knows how to use Instagram is the same: the user interface is excellent.

A good friend of mine calls Ikea furniture the "adult Lego", because both have, among many other similarities, the best possible instructions. Just as the UX designers at Instagram got a chimp to use their application, the designers at Ikea managed me to assemble my Brimnes. 

How a product communicates with its user is the key to success in one hundred percent of cases. Using the right language and often not even using any language at all opens the door for more people to be comfortable getting involved with the product. The Ikea manuals are the summum of DIY literature: even a chimpanzee would have mounted my shelf. With large, simple, detailed drawings and always using reference points. Without a single word, perfectly usable all over the world. I should bind them and entertain myself in my free time remembering how to assemble drawers, an easy read.


Step #5: Feng Shui made easy.

My furniture resonates with me. My bookshelf represents the deepest part of my psyche and Ikea knows this very well. The most useful aesthetic is the absence of it and let's not fall into the mistake of thinking that would make a product ugly.

"Death is the mother of beauty (...)." "And what is beauty?" "Terror."

The Secret History (1992), Donna Tartt.

Choosing Ikea furniture is like choosing apples from a basket. It's true that there is a possibility of choice, the illusion of choice as I mentioned in step #1 at the beginning of this article, but my brain doesn't get stinging from picking any of those apples and I never stop to think, "I should have picked that other one”. This is because all the apples in that basket are apples, just like the Ikea shelves are the shelves that we all have in our heads and every kid draws when asked to. All this furniture "resonates" in our head because it fits exactly with the idea of furniture we have in it. 

We humans come pre-defined with a lot of concepts. Many times the job of an artist is to fight against these concepts but the job of a game designer is to let himself be fanned by them. You don't have to teach a player that a gun shoots because it's something they know very well, but you have to make an effort to teach that the spell "Pyromancy 3" leaves burns for four turns. 

When I was assembling my beloved Brimnes shelf I knew very well the product I would have at the end, as it is a shelf-shaped shelf and that makes the assembly much easier, as I know what is happening when I place the shelves and I know that I will not get any surprises at the end. Every step in that wonderful instruction booklet makes sense because the shelf-shaped shelf that resonates so well in my head never fails to make sense in any of the steps. 


Although the best example of gamification will always be a game. 

Gamifying is reminiscent of childhood, when the shadow of adult responsibility did not loom over us. Gamification is to stain the boring reality with the bright tones of that summer with your cousins in the river, it is to let the child we all carry inside escape and that we locked up when we graduated from high school. Gamification is to give points, to compete and collaborate, it is to reward, it is joy and fun, gamification is to play...


Gamifying is about doing things right. It's making clear manuals to follow, with tools that are easy to find. Gamifying is making a choice without imposing any criteria. To gamify is making things clear from the beginning and not lying at any step of the process. To gamify is to do things the way they should be done, as we were taught to do when we were children.

And what could be more adult than furnishing your own living room while playing?


If you enjoyed this article please check up my work at Gamelearn, where I gamify things like cleaning your internet history or doing your paperwork. If you desire to learn a little bit more about gamification, here are some useful resources:

Jesse Schell: When games invade real life. One of the best game designers of our generation speaks about the perils of gamification.

Celia Hodent: The gamer's brainThe responsible of Fortnite's UX approaches game design from a very psicological point of view. Incredibly interesting.

Yu-Kai Chou: Points, Badges, and Leaderboards: The Gamification Fallacy. And why slapping PBL to a thing doesn't magically gamify it. His Octalisys framework is also really interesting.


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