How Good Design Created a Traffic Jam

Knowing my great affection for anything Scandinavian, I’m sure the whole team would be shocked and dismayed if I didn’t post something about the IKEA store opening in the Salt Lake valley. So here it is! How careful experience design created a traffic jam along I-15 and nearby surface streets.

On my way to work this morning, I looked out the bus window as I passed Bangerter Highway on I-15. I noted the new IKEA building, with a three-quarters full parking lot, balloons waving, a crowd gathering—despite the fact that the store didn’t open for another two hours. Last night on the news they announced that certain freeway offramps would be closed, and that a major surface street would be converted to one-way, all so that the high volume of expected traffic could be routed most efficiently in from the south and out through the north. People have been talking with great anticipation for weeks about the store opening.

So I ask— what’s the big deal? It’s a big box store for cryin’ out loud. No Walmart, Lowe’s, or Fill-in-the-Blank Superstore got this kind of treatment! I think there are at least two factors: Audience and Experience.

I myself am affected by the Audience factor in multiple ways. I appreciate relatively cheap, high-quality stuff, which is what IKEA makes. I further served an LDS mission in Sweden, so I appreciate the food, candy, decor, and other cultural touches you find at IKEA, especially around the holidays. I look forward to sharing many a plate of IKEA’s swedish meatballs and lingon berries with former mission companions and maybe even a convert or two who have relocated to Utah.

But you don’t have to have Swedish connections to appreciate the IKEA Experience. This is a company that doesn’t just sell you a piece of furniture. They sell you a good experience, from the minute you walk in the door, to the navigating of the floorplan, to the enjoyment of authentic Swedish cuisine, to the sheer relief of dropping the kids off in a 100% secure Playland before beginning your shopping trip, through the checkout lines, and all the way home.

Once at home you open your box and find—gasp!—highly readable instructions that are easy to follow. Less than thirty minutes later, your loft bed with student desk is assembled and your kid is telling you it’s the coolest thing she’s ever seen.

During December, be prepared to add a Santa Lucia procession complete with candle crowns and caroling in Swedish, and a glass of warm glogg in your hand. (I apologize for not finding my umlauts and other diacritics, Swedish speakers; forlat.) Add to this the scent of the pine trees lined up for sale, and you have an Atmosphere, not a store.

To sum it up, the reason people are lined up for miles to see this store open is not because they can’t wait to get that rocking chair or box of chocolates. It’s because IKEA provides a rich, memorable Experience that has been carefully designed from start to finish.

We should all be so wise in our design work.

(Also see how good experience made it hard to find a place to sleep in Portland.)

posted by Ted Boren on Wednesday, May 23, 2007
tagged with design, experience, ikea