Is "Sparking Joy" the Future of Interior Design?

Now that she has a series on Netflix, it’s doubtful that there’s a soul left on the planet who isn’t familiar with Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up method of paring down our possessions to only include things that “spark joy”. Her approach relies on our being tuned into our emotional connection with the physical objects that inhabit our environment, and it seems there are no wrong choices when it comes to deciding what to toss and what to keep, as long as what we do keep produces a joy-spark, which is a very specific reaction that Kondo demonstrates here and describes as the feeling “as if every part, or every cell of your body lifts up little by little”. Whether you consider the KonMari method to be life-changing or just another whack-a-doodle gimmick (and the consensus seems to be pretty evenly divided), you can’t deny that she’s put the concept of “sparking joy” squarely into our popular conversation.

But, “kyung!” noise aside, what does it really mean for an object to elicit joy?

Enter author and design researcher Ingrid Fetell Lee, who asserts that there are 10 universal “Aesthetics of Joy”, each of which “reveals a distinct connection between the feeling of joy and the tangible qualities of the world around us”.  (Check out her Ted Talk, book, and design blog. All are fascinating.)

Lee’s basic premise is that, as human animals, we’ve evolved universal aesthetic preferences for very logical reasons of survival, and to this day these 10 preferences have proven to be (based on Lee’s research) hard-wired into our design DNA. Like Kondo’s, Lee’s definition of joy is quite specific: it’s a jump-up-and-down feeling of true elation, and the common visual triggers that create it cut across lines of age, gender and ethnicity.

Ingrid Fetell Lee’s 10 aesthetic characteristics are:

Energy: vibrant color and light

Abundance: lushness, multiplicity, and variety

Freedom: nature, wildness, and open spaces

Harmony: balance, symmetry, and flow

Play: circles, spheres, bubbly forms

Surprise: contrast and whimsy

Transcendence: elevation and lightness

Magic: invisible forces and illusions

Celebration: synchrony, sparkle, and bursting shapes

Renewal: blossoming, expansion, and curves.

While most of these motifs are familiar themes in interior design, this is the first time we’ve seen them framed in the context of the abstract —and hotly trending— emotion of joy.

So here is our question: Is “sparking joy” just another buzzphrase, or does it indicate a true shift in how we’ll be designing our spaces in the years to come?

We’d love to hear what you think!

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The Energy Aesthetic

Unexpected Joy: Grand Rapids Heritage