Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ikea Case Study: Look back!

Relative to their size, owls have unusually large eyes which are able to capture more light in dark conditions. Their eyes do come at a cost—they are so large that they are fixed into position. In order to compensate for their acute forward facing vision, owls are able to swivel their heads 270 degrees. (How do you compare? Chances are you are able to rotate your head 60-80 degrees.)

Despite having a broad field of vision, how much do we actually miss by not seeing the critical things that are outside our direct line of sight? In other words, instead of trying to find the mouse in a dark field, are we able to pick out the giant pink elephant sitting behind us?

One example which illustrates how our field of vision influences our behavior is the Ikea floor plan. Regarded as the world’s largest furniture store, this flat-packing, economy-of-scale dominating Swedish manufacturer produces affordable, practical furniture (and lingonberry jam!). No college experience is complete without a trip through this store with a seemingly one-way path through multiple showrooms. The odyssey ends in a warehouse with registers—with a cart full of things you weren’t planning on buying but couldn’t pass up.  (Around 60% of store purchases at Ikea were unintended.)

The reason why Ikea is able to achieve the marketer’s dream is through design innovation. Take a look at the floorplan below which tracks the density and flow of customers through one of Ikea’s floors.
Credit: Farah Kasim 
One thing that you’ll notice is that the rooms are not laid out necessarily in a space efficient manner. Rather than arranging rows of display modules, Ikea has built a veritable maze in order to take advantage of the fact that we have a predisposition to focus on objects within our immediate forward-facing field of view. When we become disoriented in Ikea, it allows the store to take control of our autonomy and direct us. In order to get through this maze, you inevitably examine the products on display. Ultimately, being led around lowers our ability to act with intention.

What consequence does this have in our lives when we’re not in Ikea? Some of my best pictures were taken because I happened to look back at the way that I’ve come. The key is that I didn’t know that a great photo was waiting for me on the other side. Likewise, I’ve come to realize the power of periodic reflection is that it allows us to act with intention in the present in ways that surprise us. Just like losing control of our path in Ikea, life presents a plethora of distractions, obstacles, and competing tasks which easily push us around like flotsam. Reflection allows us to evaluate how we are living our lives and what we can do to improve the way we use the short time we have.

1. Look back once during your day tomorrow just to see if the change in view influences your thoughts/actions.
2. What time during your week would it be easiest for you to evaluate how the last few days have gone? (Think efficiency: stuck in a meeting? Perfect!)
3. What other ways can you think of in your own life to change your daily habits to enrich your perspective?

P.S.-The shortcut through Ikea can often be found by literally looking back or directly to your side as you navigate through the store. (Just another reinforcement to look back this week!)


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