Marie Kondo has made a successful career of turning up at people’s houses and persuading them to throw out all of their useless junk. Her ‘KonMari technique’ for tidying up has landed her a bestselling book and a Netflix series, but is there anything we can learn from this that can be applied to UX?

marie kondo

I’ve spoken before about the importance of minimalism in UX design and Marie Kondo is all about minimalism. Her primary technique is the eminently meme-able “spark of joy” she describes experiencing when she holds an object she wants to keep. So, the fabled Marie Kondo technique is to hold each item you own, see if it inspires a spark of joy and, if it does not, throw it away.

This may seem like meaningless spiritualist nonsense, but it makes perfect sense as a technique to overcome the temptation to horde objects you don’t really need, like a dragon nesting on a pile of gold.

We’ve all had those conversations in our head – “well, I’ve never worn these trainers and I don’t really like them, but who knows when I might need a pair of tartan-pattern high-tops as just the right complement to an outfit” – but, if those trainers don’t ‘spark joy’, they go in the bin. The same goes for your website.

No-one’s entirely sure who first said it, but it’s a well-known piece of writing advice to ‘kill your darlings’ – to never cling on to a part of your story that isn’t working just because you spent a lot of time on it. I’ve also spoken before about the links between writing and UX, and ‘killing your darlings’ is yet another maxim that applies to both fields. There’s no point having a really awesome feature on a site if it just doesn’t fit and disrupts the user journey.

Look at your design. Which features spark joy and which leave you feeling conflicted, confused and nervous – overcome by pros and cons? If parts of your site don’t ‘spark joy’ – if they stick out or slow things down – ditch them, even if you really like them; even if you’ve spent months developing them. You may feel pretty awful about it, but you’ll feel great about your streamlined user journey and the increased engagement from your users.

This can apply to any aspect of your site. If you don’t feel good about it, you probably don’t need it, and weeding out everything about your design that isn’t quite right should leave you with a clean, simple, intuitive user journey.

Once you have a stripped-back site, however, that isn’t the end of the joy you can bring your users. Marie Kondo’s method may be easily mockable, but she has cottoned on to how much enjoyment tiny items can bring to your life. How much money do we spend on sparkly, illustrated cases to cover our mobiles with, when a plain, black one would do; how many of us carry photos of our family; how many of us have T-shirts with our favourite band’s album artwork on them? Small things make a big difference, and if you can season your simplified site with little, pleasant flourishes, then you can enhance the simple user experience.

A major proponent of this technique is Asana. Developed by former Facebook emplopyees Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, Asana is a task management tool that combines digital to-do list features – from sites like Todoist and the soon-to-be-retired Wunderlist – with online kanban boards – as you get with Jira or Trello.

Unfortunately, the flourishes are turned off by default, but Asana’s options menu lets you activate “occasional celebrations on task completion”:

asana flourishes

When turned on, around every third task you mark as complete will result in something like the below happening across the interface:

asana microinteraction

Going into the Hacks menu will also let you increase the frequency of these fun little animations, adding ‘extra delight’:

asana's extra delight

It’s likely that these features are off by default so as not to gain disapproval from the more-serious users of what is supposedly a business tool. People like me, who use Asana in their home life, however, can enjoy these silly little pop-ups, which Asana clearly believed was worth investing in.

These moments of joy don’t just occur when things are going right, though. Other sites use little animations to soften the blow when things go wrong. Famously, when Twitter was first taking off, it would quickly exceed its capacity and introduce users to its ‘fail whale’:

Likewise, Google (who are excellent at these microinteractions) still uses its offline dinosaur when a user’s internet connection fails:

Little touches like these are pretty easy to implement, but can make your site stand out. Lots of sites give a good user journey, but not many can make you laugh, groan skeptically or ‘ooh’ at an impressive animation.

Those emotional responses are more memorable and more powerful than useful information or easy processes, and are likely to be what brings your users back, when all things are equal. Of course, a bad UI with flourishes is still a bad UI, but a good UI with flourishes is better than a good UI without.

A streamlined website, with all the unnecessary features and points of frustration removed to make it clean and simple; peppered with tiny little interactions designed to amuse and entertain your users – sounds like a perfect user experience.

Of course, you need to be careful that, in adding these moments of joy, you don’t reclutter your site and restore the problems you originally removed. There’s no point having a cool little animation on your site if it crashes every time or can’t be viewed on a major browser.

Still, if you can remove anything on your site that doesn’t spark joy and add a few more sparkles on top, you’ll make your site something you and Marie Kondo can be proud of. Not to mention, you’ll optimise your user experience and, with it, your conversion rates.


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