irst, I was amazed by Marie Kondo herself. Her joy, optimism and confidence are those of a woman who truly loves her craft and the impact it has on humans. It’s incredible to watch home and human transformations unfold through the simple act of tidying. Such a thoughtful process with a profound human impact reminded me of what we practice as designers: human-centered design. We empathize with people and solve problems by holding human needs & behaviors at the core. Similarly, the KonMari method is a beautiful example of a human-centered process designed to transform our relationship with physical possessions and invite us to lead more intentional lives.
The design problems we tackle are often just as messy, with layers of complexity, endless dependencies, and lots of baggage. I couldn’t help but think — what can we bring from the KonMari method to our design work this year?
There’s a reason that we focus on people’s needs before jumping to solutions. There’s a reason we move from low to high fidelity as we prototype, and there’s a reason we iteratively test. No matter who our audience is or how the content changes, the process we follow as designers remains the same. The same goes for Marie. First you tackle clothing, then books, then paper, miscellaneous things, and finally mementos. I’ve been surprised how many friends have asked me, are all the episodes the same? Sure, you’ll learn new things in each episode — like how to fold a fitted sheet effectively or how to organize unwieldy Tupperware — but while the people, content and impact will vary, the process is the same. It’s simple and understandable, with proven results. Knowing your design process means truly understanding the goals of each stage. By focusing on what you’re trying to accomplish to move towards a solution, you’ll have something foundational to return to in the face of ambiguity. You’ll be able to choose the right tools for the task, and when you feel lost or like you just want to jump ahead, you’ll be confident that the steps you’re taking are driving towards the best solution.
Deleting digital assets is easy. They’re cheap and disposable. One key command and it’s as if they were never there. As designers, we too quickly forget that those digital assets aren’t just pixels. They’re pixels steeped in time and creative thinking. Sometimes we may react to feedback or critiques and make changes that aren’t thoughtful, all in the name of speed. How often do we later we find ourselves cycling through iterations, exploring familiar concepts we’ve tried before? Part of the KonMari method that I found challenging was taking time to thank items before discarding them. They’ve served you well. While I didn’t thank every piece of clothing as I went through my closet, I did reflect on the memories they held. It’s easy to become attached, even just for a moment, to physical objects. They’re tangible and tactile, made of “real” materials and resources. Getting rid of them is challenging. What if someone else could use it? What if I need it someday? Can I recycle it? Without that attachment to digital assets, it’s easy to delete too quickly. Think before you delete. Take a second to remember why you did something and take advantage of your previous decisions before discarding them too quickly. Better yet, save your iterations. The time spent duplicating an artboard is brief compared to the time it’ll take to recreate your work later. (And in that moment when you need it, you’ll be grateful you did.)
There’s a lot of talk about learnability and discoverability in design. We focus less explicitly on how to effectively communicate the limitations of interactions: what’s possible and what isn’t. This might be as simple as placeholder text in a search box or setting context when introducing a bot. Communicating the scope of interactions helps to set expectations and allows people to focus on what they can do rather than wasting time discovering what they can’t. I think about this every morning when I open my drawers. In the KonMari method, communication is about visibility. All objects have a place and can be seen when you open a cabinet or drawer. The inability to see something clearly communicates absence. There’s no question whether my favorite sweater is hidden underneath something or in another drawer. It’s a simple, binary message. I know what’s possible and what isn’t. I’m not suggesting that it’s this simple in all design work. Visibility may not be the correct communication pathway for all design scenarios. It is important that we think about how we’re communicating constraints or limitations, in addition to possibilities. Doing so will help people to make quick decisions to achieve their goals.
As designers, our job is to make the world a thoughtfully crafted place where everyone can live better, more joyful lives. We talk about designing for delight or the “minimum delightful experience”, but it’s more than that. It’s truly taking a human-centric approach to whatever problem you’re tackling and designing with intent. This comes through in every aspect of the KonMari method. The series of categories begins with objects you’re least attached to, helping people build comfort with the process. The benchmark for keeping items is personal joy, and the way in which objects are organized means that comfort and joy persist long after you’ve finished tidying. I think about the joy I feel when I open my pantry and can read the labels on all of my spices. Actually, I don’t think about anything. I just scan the labels, find what I need, and am quickly on my way. I used to waste time checking multiple labels, wondering if we were out of Cumin already or if I was going crazy. What once was a mess of bottles and jars is now intentionally structured to ensure my success and see me on my way.
As we design into 2019 and beyond, let’s design for joy. Let’s think holistically about people, the goals they want to achieve and what they’re really trying to do. (I’m not trying to find a spice, I’m trying to cook a meal.) Let’s give them the tools they need to be successful through thoughtfully designed experiences. If we as designers can help to build confidence, provide support, drive efficiency and simplify challenges just a little bit, I’d like to think we’re sparking some joy in the world.
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