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."
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 lawsofsimplicity.com 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.
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.
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.
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.