Ten laws of simplicity for business, technology, and design that teach us how to need less but get more.
Finally, we are learning that simplicity equals sanity. We're rebelling against technology that's too complicated, DVD players with too many menus, and software accompanied by 75-megabyte "read me" manuals. The iPod's clean gadgetry has made simplicity hip. But sometimes we find ourselves caught up in the simplicity paradox: we want something that's simple and easy to use, but also does all the complex things we might ever want it to do. In The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda offers ten laws for balancing simplicity and complexity in business, technology, and design—guidelines for needing less and actually getting more.
Maeda—a professor in MIT's Media Lab and a world-renowned graphic designer—explores the question of how we can redefine the notion of "improved" so that it doesn't always mean something more, something added on.
Maeda's first law of simplicity is "Reduce." It's not necessarily beneficial to add technology features just because we can. And the features that we do have must be organized (Law 2) in a sensible hierarchy so users aren't distracted by features and functions they don't need. But simplicity is not less just for the sake of less. Skip ahead to Law 9: "Failure: Accept the fact that some things can never be made simple." Maeda's concise guide to simplicity in the digital age shows us how this idea can be a cornerstone of organizations and their products—how it can drive both business and technology. We can learn to simplify without sacrificing comfort and meaning, and we can achieve the balance described in Law 10. This law, which Maeda calls "The One," tells us: "Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful."
In this breezy treatise, graphic designer and computer scientist Maeda proposes ten laws for simplifying complex systems in business and life-but mostly in product design. Maeda's upbeat explanations usefully break down the power of less-fewer features, fewer buttons and fewer distractions-while providing practical strategies for harnessing that power, such as SHE: "Shrink, Hide, and Embody." The first three laws, based on principles of reduction, organization and efficiency, form the foundation for increasingly complex and self-referential concepts like the importance of context and the potential for failure in simplification (by the end of the book, Maeda is chiding himself for using too many acronyms). Combined with trust and emotional engagement (laws 7 and 8), Maeda demonstrates how complex systems can become downright lovable: Maeda recalls "the Tamagocchi craze of the late 1990s... showed that anyone could fall in love with a small electronic keychain," drawing a corollary to the almighty iPod (an iconic example referred to throughout). Emphasizing the delicate balance-work involved in simplifying the complex, Maeda admits the process isn't easy, and that his ten laws don't necessarily provide all the answers-in numerous places, he directs readers to the web site where his theories continue to develop. Despite that, this slim book feels complete in itself; not only will it stimulate ideas, it will keep readers thumbing back for a second and third look at Maeda's deceptively simple advice.