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Marie Kondo’ing design and why it’s great for business

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By Marie Kondo’ing our design system, we hope to
  • Generate more revenue and conversions
    By being customer-centric to our core, we iterate based on the data and we base our decisions around what resonates with our users.
  • Increase productivity
    By streamlining the design process and stripping it down to only the things that bring us joy, we make designing, developing and QA’ing our work faster, which allows us to …
  • Reduce the cost of operations
    Work that takes less time to produce and test is more cost-effective. This has the added benefit of clarifying the roles and relationships in the processes, reduced feedback cycles for sign-offs and augmented autonomy for teams of distributed individuals (all of which improves the bottom line).
  • Build customer loyalty and recognition
    By streamlining our design system to keep only the items that spark joy, we will be easily recognizable and remembered for our fabulous style.

“Make this pretty”

Each time someone asks me to “make this pretty,” I cringe a little. I guess that’s par for the course given my chosen my career, but as any good design professional will tell you, designing things well isn’t only about making them visually pleasing.

Kim Soko Schaefer on Medium reminds us, “Design is the process of intentionally creating something while simultaneously considering its objective (purpose), function, economics, sociocultural factors, and aesthetics.” Design is about solving problems – it just so happens that a more aesthetic result is often the outcome of a strategic answer to a given challenge because clutter isn’t pretty – just ask Marie Kondo.

“Design is the process of intentionally creating something while simultaneously considering its objective (purpose), function, economics, sociocultural factors, and aesthetics.”

Kim Soko Schaefer

Designing with purpose

Here at Signifyd, we take great pride in our broadly defined design team, including individual designers who fall under the marketing, product or brand org. We are fortunate that our design team is small enough that although we face some challenges – educating colleagues on why we make the decisions we do, having a common understanding around what we are solving for, struggling as an advocate for the user – we can easily break down the silos and walk the two or so feet that separate our physical spaces or jump on a quick Zoom conference to brainstorm the best next steps in terms of brand, product or design for our customers.

At Signifyd, where “Design For Scale” is one of our core values, working towards solving our problems holistically and cross-functionally in order to set down a system that will stand the test of time and scale as we grow our business seems like a no-brainer.

One of the key challenges many design leaders face is communicating the importance of design as a fundamental business practice. As Ralf Speth famously said: “If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”

It is a core function of any successful company (think Airbnb, Pinterest, Instagram, Uber, Netflix, Apple, Google, Target, the list goes on). But how does one determine the monetary success of the nebulous “design function”? How can design meet the requirements of conducting research, solving user problems, building brand recognition and producing tactical assets while staying friends with finance when it’s time to determine the yearly budget?

Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo, from Twitter

Marie Kondo’ing is a Thing

Enter Marie Kondo, our hero, stage left. Most likely you know who Marie Kondo is, but in case you don’t, meet Marie, the undeniable queen of the art of cleaning up. You can familiarize yourself with her hit TV show on Netflix. In a nutshell, the principle of the KonMari method is about simplifying and organizing your living space by getting rid of items that do not bring joy into your life and are therefore unnecessary.

“But what does that have to do with the value of design in a startup?” you may ask… I’m happy to answer.

Has anyone seen my toogit?

Let’s take your wardrobe, for example. If each time someone from your tribe leaves home, they randomly pick items off store shelves and racks to bring home for you to wear, you would have an array of styles. One day, you might be dressed in a Hawaiian shirt (from your dad’s recent vacation) with plaid pants (your brother plays golf), a black fedora (your mom is a Sarah Bernhardt fan), wearing rainbow socks (your 8-year-old sister’s Christmas gift) with high heels (remains from a friend’s recent wedding). The next, you may find yourself in leopard leggings, bowling shirt, a bolo tie, a ski hat, lace gloves and moon boots. Say the next day, you want to get dressed yet again and you need some help from a friend.

The conversation might go something like this:

“Hey, do me a favor and run into my closet and grab me my toogit.”

“Your what?”

“My toogit.”

“What’s a toogit?”

(You open a magazine and point.)

“Oooooooh,” your friend says. “You mean your alerrawia! I can’t find anything in here. There’s too much stuff. Here, take this luezoid instead.”

You put on the luezoid, along with a gogogox, your favorite loodon and top it off with a dropellet.


Don’t be like this guy…

Your friend says, “I really like your skizzle, looplab & shorogyt.”

You may be more confused than ever, but that’s the point. All of the different styles and naming conventions are bewildering. You can’t find anything in your closet; you look like a hot mess and you have no idea what anyone around you is talking about. On top of this, you continue to accumulate new items because, in the chaos, you can never find what you are looking for. If you are like me, just reading this makes you break out into a nervous sweat.

Look book to design system

Now let’s imagine a different scenario. You have a carefully crafted closet, with fewer, but beautifully tailored items — mindfully chosen, high-quality pieces that complement each other. They fit you well. They have common definitions and are arranged in a way that makes them easy for anyone to locate. To increase convenience and practicality, you take photos and create a catalog/lookbook, describing the individual items and demonstrating the outfits, allowing you to assemble them easily.

Chances are this wardrobe has longevity. Chances are, although possibly more expensive initially, it will ultimately bring more long-term value and make a better first impression. Chances are, it will decrease the time you spend getting dressed each day. Chances are, if you are Marie Kondo (or me), this wardrobe brings you joy.



Keep it all together

In this example, your personal style is your brand and your closet is your toolkit. The designers and developers are your tribe. The skizzle, looplab & shorogyt are parts of your naming convention (but please call them something else IRL). The individual articles of clothing are the elements; the outfits are the reusable components – both visual and messaging — and the catalog is your design system. I have no idea what your rainbow socks are. Or your bolo tie for that matter. Stay with me.

Each time a designer needs something and can’t find it – either because it doesn’t exist, doesn’t have a common naming convention, isn’t stored in a centralized location or there is a rush to finish a job quickly and no time to search for it – he or she creates something new, often in a vacuum. And unless the designer is clairvoyant, the chances are slim he or she does the exact same thing as any other designer working for your brand.

Compound that with multiple designers, often in separate locations with biased design aesthetics, attacking problems with alternative solutions. If this then gets passed off to a developer who has no points of reference, documentation, code snippets, or is in a hurry because of tight deadlines, she or he will develop or find her or his own code, often without proper testing. Now, multiply all this by the number of developers you have working for your company.

If you are like Signifyd, designers and developers span across brand, marketing and product. One minute you have a well-crafted wardrobe, the next, you are wearing a kimono with polka-dotted boy shorts.

Design debt, no more

This lack of consistency and the rush to get things out the door result in poor design choices (like your rainbow socks with high heels – no judging). These seemingly minutiae accumulate and produce what Mark Boulton terms the “marginal degradation of brands.” This is called “design debt,” and as everyone knows, debt has to be paid back, and is often expensive.

This is where we circle back to our old friend Marie Kondo and why KonMari is good for business. It comes down to this: By applying the principles of “Tidying Up” to our design system, we plan on creating an environment where we will have remaining only those items that spark joy. But we first have to go through the process of imagining our ideal “lifestyle” (or in this case brand identity) and then doing the hard work of discarding and tidying in a certain order.

By stripping our current system down to the studs (tidying up); eliminating all of the parts that don’t serve us well anymore (thanking them for their service and wishing them well with gratitude before letting them go); building a lean, functional system (with only things that spark joy); we will be making an important business decision that will be an enormous investment for our company, long-term, like a well-crafted wardrobe.

Our hope is that by doing this, we will end up with a lean, mean, profitable but beautiful machine, which ultimately means that everything we create will be “pretty” (but don’t tell me), purposeful, functional, economical, socioculturally appropriate and aesthetically pleasing. It will bring us back to a mindfully tailored wardrobe, which will make products easier and quicker to produce, manage, maintain and build upon. And therefore those products will be more cost-effective in the long-term for our brand. And it will make us look better, too.

Au revoir, rainbow socks. Thank you for your service.

Design-led companies outperform industry benchmarks by over 200% (Design Maturity Institute, 2014 & Design Council, 2004)

People using design skills (designer or design thinking) deliver almost 10£ extra per hour in gross value added (2018 Design Council)

Design thinking reduces design, development & testing time, ultimately reducing time to market by 50% (Forrester 2018)

Research shows that companies defined as those with high design-centric behaviors outperform industry benchmarks for growth by as much as 2 to 1 – or twice as much return for shareholders (McKinsey 2018)

*Numbers provided by Leah Buley, Director of Design Education at InVision

Sarah Kinkade

Sarah Kinkade

Sarah leads brand design and strategy at Signifyd. When not obsessing over design, typography and brand-related information, she can be found wandering and trespassing. Some of it is documented and can be found on Instagram @selk and some, thankfully, cannot.