The Laws of Simplicity — John Maeda

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Laws of SimplicityThis simple book is worth reading for its mindset rather than for any concrete ideas. Maeda gives ten “laws” of simplicity, but they’re really pretty arbitrary. The tenth law is just a slogan (although a good one), and there are three extra laws at the end. Clearly he was intent on having ten laws in his list.

Here’s my interpretation of the laws:

Thoughtful reduction yields simplicity.
Organisation makes complex systems appear simple.
Savings in time feel like simplicity.
Knowledge makes everything simpler.
Simplicity and complexity need each other.
Simplicity needs a sympathetic context.
More emotions are better than less.
In simplicity we trust.
But some things cannot be made simple.

Regarding the law of Trust, Maeda points out that shopping is simpler when you know you can return your purchases, since you can spend less time choosing. But that doesn’t avoid the choosing, it simply moves it. When you get home you have to decide whether you’re going to return the purchase, whether you perhaps should have gotten a larger size, or a different colour. Barry Schwartz, in The Paradox of Choice, argues that things are simpler overall when your choices are irreversible.

The tenth law of simplicity (which Maeda calls “The One”) is beautiful:

Simplicity is all about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

This reminds me of the artist Hans Hofmann:

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.

There are some interesting anecdotes and worthwhile points, but they didn’t seem especially coherent to me; the book rambles a bit. Maeda closes with some final musings, loosely organised into three more laws (called “keys”). In the last one, about the power of constraints, he confesses that he is typing with only 14 minutes of power left on his laptop. Maybe if he had a bit more time he would have written a simpler book.

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  1. Some nice stuff you have here. I found you searching for a WordPress Atahualpa fix to simply getting the excerpts displaying instead of the bloggers site address. I am not a coder, so I haven’t yet cracked this, oh, so simple task.
    I will get there.
    But I digress.
    Some points:
    1. I think we share the same country. (Mt. Maunganui for me)
    2. Your ‘less is more’ philsophy also applies to writing (a forgotten art in this graphics world)
    3. If your widget, or whatever you have fixes my issue, (see, which is the site I am learning all this on), then I will take it

  2. @Bryan, yes, we’re both kiwis (I’m in Auckland) and I agree about simplicity in writing. I try to rein in my natural verbosity, at least when I’m writing.

    As for your website, try my Evermore plugin. You should be able to install it from your WordPress administration console, in the Plugins section.

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