tidying up messes
Five days ago, I was cleaning up a very messy bag. I dumped out all the contents, put similar things together, reorganized so they would be easier to find and bring out, then threw out the junk.
Then I had a very random brain fart: tidying up is kind of like information architecture, except the mess is intangible.
Don’t take my word for it: World IA Day co-founder Abby Covert wrote a book exactly like that.
You can buy the book or read it online: HowToMakeSenseOfAnyMess.com
As it happens, someone by the name of Marie Kondo also wrote a book about tidying up messes in 2011. She became one of Time’s most influential in 2015, and has gone more mainstream than ever thanks to her new Netflix show.
So I tweeted this.
As well as this prediction: 2019 will be the year of “does this spark joy” memes and metaphors from your favorite thought leaders.
But the joke’s on me, ‘cause Pierce invited me to actually do a talk about it today, and I said yes.
Challenge accepted, because I like meta things. I like finding and combining inspiration in unconventional combinations.
A little bit about me:
Code is poetical science : realizing Ada Lovelace considers programming as “poetical science”, inspiring me to make this demo WordPress theme for a Women Who WordPress workshop, and as it happens the slogan for WordPress is: “code is poetry.”
Internet culture : when I say I’m a fan of the Web, it’s not about web standards, or design and development stuff, but also how the Internet has transformed as a medium, changed our behavior, and influenced our culture from the biggest to the smallest of ways, like maybe grammar, or humor.
Organizing : for me, nothing gets more meta than developing all these different skills when doing org work at the Philippine Web Designers Organization. I do writing, marketing, design, dev, sponsorship, production, cx, service design, and so on.
Heck, if I could find a job that pays me to do these things, but what you can’t, you do as your hobbies. Jessica Hische calls this “procrastiworking”.
Anyway, for those of you who don’t know me, again, my name is Sophia Lucero, and yes, my real nickname is Ia. I’m a web designer, by which I mean I create meaningful experiences through the combination of thoughtful words, design, and code.
Now, hopefully what you take away from this commercial break, is that we can look to unusual sources of inspiration look at things a little differently. Here, our catalyst is the Konmari method.
Whether we’re at the starting phase of a project, or jumping into the “mess”, we can be more purposeful, mindful, thoughtful about what each part plays in the greater whole.
“Tidying in the end is just a physical act. The work involved can be broadly divided into two kinds:
Deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it.” For Konmari, tidying is divided into two main parts: “deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it.”
or the discarding phase, and the organizing phase.
In the method, you should always discard before organizing.
✤ Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder.
✤ The point in deciding specific places to keep things is to designate a spot for every thing.
✤ Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out.
And once you tidy, you understand what’s causing the mess so you can eliminate it.
All of this is sensible; you can actually look more closely at each step and see how they can be a viable framework when we’re doing our work, right?
But the method is not just following things step by step. It also challenges you to be more mindful in your choices.
Dick Buchanan back in CMU Design School talked about designing from a point of love (agape):
“We need to make products that are respectful, sustainable, so that working with the product makes us something more, something more than selfish.”
– Dan Saffer
Reflecting further, I read a couple of quotes recently, which are replies to Erika Hall’s tweet asking people how they define good design, which I think fit well here. This quote talks about putting care into the way we design so that it makes us—not just the product—better.
“When we design products and services, it’s not about what we want them to be—it’s what we want the people using them to be: generous, helpful, thoughtful, useful, beautiful, respectful, kind. This is good design.”
– Dan Saffer
Dan Saffer also goes on to say how we’re not just improving products, but people who use them, so all our decisions cascade and influence not just buying behavior or where people click, but values and psychology. Next time we set out to design something, perhaps this can be part of how we visualize that whole journey.
So this became very abstract and you could even say spiritual, which brings me to my last point: Marie Kondo infuses a very mundane activity, cleaning up, with deeper beliefs and practices that are foreign to us, and not necessarily our own.
We’ve all heard of this. Marie Kondo wants you to take a moment to hold each object you own and ask, “does it spark joy?”
We’ve all seen the memes.
“If things had feelings, they would certainly not be happy. Free them from the prison to which you have relegated them. Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go, with gratitude.”
People reacted to how she encouraged interacting with and thanking inanimate objects. But there’s a deeper issue here, beyond seemingly harmless humor.
Konmari philosophy is rooted in Shinto religion, which has kami, spirits or sacred essence, that are present everywhere.
Shinto beliefs also permeate in Japanese culture – so that objects and seemingly insignificant things are treated with significant dignity that we’re not accustomed to, like exchanging business cards or pouring tea.
My dad used to say, “The Japanese do everything backward.” Even when I was little, the phrasing bugged me, though I couldn’t articulate why. Now I know. It meant that the Japanese were the wrong ones, the “other.” Westerners were at the center of his universe, just as Western values are at the center of the memes disparaging the KonMari method.
– What White, Western Audiences Don’t Understand About Marie Kondo’s ‘Tidying Up’ by Margaret Dilloway
People reacted by meme-ing, by lowering or othering something that was foreign to them. If you take this behavior to the most extreme, that would be xenophobia, or racism.
In our case as professionals in the tech and design industry, majority of what we’ve learned and practiced comes from the West. What would be different if the industry was more Eastern-centric?
And when we see cultures that are different from us and are inspired to do work based on them, are we mindful of how we could be disrespectfully appropriating that?
So many questions I don’t have the answer to, and so little time. But hopefully this gave you something different to think about.
I’ll leave you with some “homework”…
✤ read both books and try to draw parallels
✤ how would you incorporate the ideas from konmari into something you’re working on?
✤ what is it about your work as a designer that gives you the most joy?