The laws of simplicity

by John Maeda

Hardcover, 2006




Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2006.


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."… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jensgram
Not quite what I hoped for. A bit informal and casual styled.
LibraryThing member superpatron
Good discussion, but the laws themselves are not pithy enough to be memorable.
LibraryThing member chellerystick
I definitely enjoyed this little book and recommend it. It is more of a short meditation on simplicity in technology and life than any kind of manual, but it is a good, rich little essay on this topic.

Some of the highlights of this book include:
* Removing and hiding features are counterbalanced by the need to make their quality tangible (including aerodynamic or streamlined design), in an act of emotional design.
* Melting elements into a blur can make them appear more simple in the gestalt, although there is a price to this in the learning curve.
* Put yourself in the shoes of the beginner to teach and learn the basics, repeating yourself.
* "Metaphors are only deeply engaging if they surprise along some unexpected, positive dimension."
* "Simplicity and complexity need each other": "find the right balance where you can become 'comfortably lost.'"
* "The taste of this meal is affected by the [pure white] room we sit in."
* And trust resides in how much you need to know about a system and how much the system knows about you.

The acronyms and so forth that show up through the book are fairly hokey, but he admits this as an unresolved flaw and reminds us of several important points in about 115 pages, culminating in the idea of "subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful." He also has a companion website at where he occasionally posts other books, links, etc. As always, I would've liked sources for some of his anecdotes--this would be a form of his "openness simplifies complexity"--and since this is something I do not see on the website, I'm going to have to spend some time if I want to track any of them down.

Overall, this is a rich dessert. Highly recommended.
… (more)
LibraryThing member hatchibombotar
I thought this book was sometimes more simple-minded than truly interesting about simplicity. Perhaps it was the author's over-reliance on cute tricks like acronyms and initialisms for mnemonics.

Which is not to say that there's nothing interesting or compelling here. I like "Time: savings in time feel like simplicity," and "Away: more feels like less by simply moving it far, far away." That plus "Differences: simplicity and complexity need each other" combine for potent rules of thumb for web sites and counter-arguments against those who claim that simplicity necessitates "dumbing down." It's really "smartening up" and moving those smarts out of the user's face.… (more)
LibraryThing member gdhaire
In "The Laws of Simplicity" graphic designer, artist, computer scientist and professor at MIT, John Maeda, offers a cursory examination of simplicity in our technologically choked world. I say cursory because at 100 pages the book doesn't have much room for a "complex" examination of simplicity. I suppose John did this intentionally. Nevertheless, what I expected from the book and what I got were two different things.

I expected him to discuss his ten laws in ways that pertain to real life. Maybe he did this to some degree, but more often than not, when I finished a chapter, I was left wondering why he didn't finish the book, wondering why each chapter felt like an introduction to a chapter and not a fully realized chapter itself.

The ten laws are Reduce, Organize, Time, Learn, Differences, Context, Emotion, Trust, Failure and The One, which says we are to take away the obvious and add the meaningful. The ten laws are applicable to life. I only wished Maeda would have more closely followed law number ten.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Murdocke23
A small book with big ideas on keeping things simple. Author is well-accomplished, and writing seems to flaunt it sometimes or is occasionally banal (perhaps due to book's start as a blog). But ideas are good (just not profound).. So a good book, but just not really impressed, maybe because I've read other books that share similar ideas at greater depth.… (more)
LibraryThing member JenneB
Interesting, but it seemed disorganized somehow.
LibraryThing member dkords
There's nothing but good things one can say about the concept of this book. Redefine the world of complexity by cutting it down to the essence of what matters. Give meaning and passion to technology by simplifying their purpose. And when the complexity cannot be reduced, admit failure (and succeed in a way).

The book was full of acronyms which elude me at the time of this writing, but a bunch of sort of catchy terms which you can apply to your own design thinking process to apply simplicity. The style of this book would probably follow the pattern of John's other books (I've only read one other book by this author), so fits into 100 pages, easy read, and has pictures and diagrams where it helps explain the concepts.

The most interesting moments in this book were about the work the author did to get a consortium working together (called Simplicity Consortium). While it was mentioned only briefly in the book, and mentioned the corporations involved + MIT, there is no public record of the organization that can be found on today's 2013 Internet. I was hoping there was a group or organization that has arisen from these ideas that one could follow up with.

The book ends abruptly, and my take away of Simplicity (in it's application to technology) is to explore how to reduce. What can be taken away, what doesn't it do, what is it missing that won't be missed.
… (more)
LibraryThing member HansooK
So great book.
LibraryThing member sfhaa
I like Maeda, I have one of his old design books. This one started off well enough but quite soon I began to feel it wasn't really aimed at me. Maeda has a great capacity for summarising and shrinking information into simple, digestible phrases, but I couldn't help thinking with The Laws Of Simplicity he was shaping aesthetics and technology into metaphors aimed at middle managers looking for the latest self-help book.… (more)
LibraryThing member getaneha
The 100 pages book itself is meticulously designed, the ten laws of simplicity aptly presented, Maeda, an MIT professor, argues that the issue of simplicity versus complexity affects every realm of our life, especially with our encounter with technological tools. As a librarian, I would like to contextualise some of Madea's concepts for metadata, especially the 10th law of simplicity where he talks about "subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful" from which he identifies a key principle, i.e., "more appears like less by simply moving it far, far away". For me the notion of metadata simplicity in the library domain is so conflated that it seems as if having fewer metadata fields is construed as metadata simplicity.… (more)



Page: 1.3781 seconds