Last week, Mrs. and one of our kids ventured to the IKEA store in College Park, Maryland. They returned with a hard-to-assemble bookshelf, a ginormous bag of Swedish meatballs, and a great example of emotionally intelligent signage from the store cafeteria.

18 Responses to “Emotionally intelligent signage amid the meatballs”

  1. seth godin says:

    I have a different sign in mind:

    “You should clear your own table for the satisfaction of finishing what you started, for the way it makes you feel to not leave a mess, and because it’s the right thing to do.”

  2. Lawrence Fox says:

    As a regular visitor to IKEA in Vaughan, ON (it’s actually a nice place to have a coffee and do some writing), I’ve seen that sign several times.

    Sorry, Seth, but I prefer the actual one to your version. It’s more positive and sells the benefit and, we all know, IKEA is all about price and benefits and cool looks. And if I wanted a lecture, I’d have gone to my (late) mother’s house for coffee .


  3. Rob Thomas says:

    I agree with Seth. It completes the cycle of action. It also demonstrates good karma.

  4. Josh Long says:

    I think a comedic approach might drive better results since the thought of “my tray and cup aren’t going to raise any prices if I leave it here.”

    How about:
    “In Scandanavia we clean up after ourselves because everything turns to ice if you leave it out and meatballs are impossible to chisel out. It makes for one heck of a mess in June when it all melts and meatballs run down the fjords to fill the sea and block the salmon from running.
    So please clean up after yourself.”

  5. Avatar photo Dan Pink says:

    What both the existing sign and the Seth revision have in common — and what distinguishes them from most signage — is that they explain the reason for the rule. Instead of merely directing people to comply, they offer a “why” for the behavior.

    But the question of which approach is more effective is fascinating. Seems like a testable proposition. Paging Dan Ariely! (

  6. Lisa Hamaker says:

    Too funny – was just at IKEA and thought of the Pink Blog when I saw the sign, but figured someone had already sent it – great lesson!

    Seth and Dan – what about combining the two messages? I like the intrinsic message in “finishing what you started” and think it makes a meaningful addition to the original sign.

  7. Elissa Wurf says:

    Definitely a testable hypothesis!

    I see two key differences between Seth’s phrasing and the store’s. One is the intrinsic vs. extrinsic nature of the presumed motivation–the store’s sign points to external factors while Seth’s cites internal factors.

    But I also see a difference in the tone of the phrasing–there is something about Seth’s phrasing–for example, the extra “should” at the beginning of the sentence–that does sound “lecture-y” and may evoke reactance.

    So any test should be careful to make sure that the two test samples are parallel in emotional tone as well as locus of causality.

  8. J R Mencarelli says:

    I am writing from a different perspective, a former employee of IKEA.

    While the signage is cute and makes a point, I tend to believe that they are really not keeping prices that much lower because I cleared my own table. As a former employee, there were many things that cost the firm money and were not addressed. I am a person who typically clears my table and another around me.

    Here is another example. Upon landing with SouthWest Airlines, the Captain instructed us to please raise the window shades. In my usual inquistive fashion, I asked the flight attendant why do I need to raise my window shade. The answer was so that the Captain can see out the window when backing up. Obviously not true, but humorous. The real reason was so that the flight attenants did not have reach across and lift the window shades.

    While we can always address issues in a courteous manner (Please enjoy your drinks and snacks outside.) many times we don’t. It is usually “Per Management” as if an alien would write a note telling you to clear your own table.

    Daniel keep up the good work!

  9. Karen Woodward Massey says:

    I would just like to add that the Design of the sign itself is interesting and invites one to read it– the perspective of the lines of the sentences tweaked my attention from the get go.

  10. Richie says:

    It’s a nifty idea but where do we draw the line…some places make customers get their own drinks..chips…and condiments… If I pay for 100% of the service I expect 100% of the service

  11. Kent says:

    Like this. A nice way to ask people to do something which people are always stubborn to do. Great work, IKEA!

  12. Yes, it is a piece of cake but wouldn’t it be nice to get an actual piece of cake after doing so? One can only take so much autonomy, mastery, and purpose for motivation.

    I kid, I kid.

  13. HeatherW says:

    Would be interesting to know whether their results “tidy up” the issue. A third option – neaten up for your neighbour. No one wants to dine in your crummy leftovers.

  14. John Waite says:

    It’s a great sign, and I like the fact it explains the rule. I will admit to always being the first person, when given a rule to say “But, why?”.

  15. Erik DeVito says:

    I’m surely in the majority but I’m a big fan of Ikea directions and an even bigger fan of the College Park IKEA…It’s the best I’ve been to. Go Terps!!!