Book review: “The Laws of Simplicity” by John Maeda

Simplicity is a good thing, says John Maede, a professor at the MIT Media Lab.

“The Laws of Simplicity” presents ten rules and three axioms on how to achieve simplicity:

1. REDUCE everything when possible; use the process of SHE (Shrink, Hide, Embody)

  • Shrink – have more functionality in smaller form-factors
  • Hide – subsume secondary functionality in larger categories (e.g., navigation menus )
  • Embody – imbue item with a feeling of value and quality despite simplicity (e.g., a Bang & Olufsen remote control is very simple but also very heavy)

2. ORGANIZE things into categories makes more thins appear to be fewer – this coincides with the “Hide” above

3. TIME – saving time makes things simpler. Why? because there’s less happening

4. LEARN – the more you know about something, the simpler it appears.

5. DIFFERENCES – Contrast makes things look simpler

6. CONTEXT – focus isn’t always a good thing; carefully consider what might appear peripheral to see how it can create CONTRAST

7. EMOTION – sometimes emotion dictates adding more (versus REDUCE). Ornamental components can be a good thing.

8. TRUST – Trust leads to simplicity

9. FAILURE – some things will defy all attempts at simplification

10. SUBTRACT THE OBVIOUS, ADD THE MEANINGFUL

Some of the “Laws” aren’t laws that lead to simplicity; some laws are contradictory; others are redundant. Here’s how I would reformulate them:

1. ORGANIZE AND SUBORDINATE – structured information is easier to digest than unstructured data; secondary functionality should be hidden behind larger categories

2. REMOVE unnecessary or nonessential elements. Once you’ve done that, wait a day and then REMOVE some more

3. SHRINK AND CLARIFY remaining elements until they are intuitive; summarize; take out distracting details

4. LIMIT DEPTH – remove elements that are too “deep” into hierarchies/categories, since no one will ever find them and they will just add confusion

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