The Laws of Simplicity

The Laws of Simplicity

Author
John Maeda
Year
2006
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Review

I really love the concept of simplicity and I think about it often. This book was full of promise for me, but it didn’t deliver. The early laws are great, and there’s some real actionable advice there. I found the quality of thinking and clarity tailed off. I lost faith in the author at some point in the second half.

There are better design books out there. ‘The design of everyday things’ is a much better place to start.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • The 10 Laws of simplicity:
    1. Reduce: the simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction
      • Shrink: make it small, this lowers expectations. Make it appear delicate and fragile (lightness and thinness). Smaller, lesser, humbler. Move value is delivered than originally expected.
        • Example: iPod fits in your hand, mirrored back made it seem smaller
      • Hide: hide the complexity. Hide it until you need it. It’s a form of deception. Complexity becomes a switch the owner can flip.
        • Example: the clamshell phone, the menu bar.
      • Embody: perception of quality becomes important after shrinking and hiding. Less needs to seem like more. Embody quality. You can invest in quality through craftsmanship or marketing (real or perceived).
    2. Organise: organisation makes a system of many appear fewer
      • Two questions of decluttering: What to hide? Where to put it?
        • To have a stable system though you need to ask… What goes with what?
      • Organisation makes a system of many appear fewer IF the number of groups is significantly less than the number of items.
      • Working with fewer makes life easier.
      • What goes with what?
        • Sort: find the natural groupings.
        • Label: Assign a name
        • Integrate: groups that appear significantly like each other
        • Prioritise: collect highest priority items into a single set so they receive the most attention
          • Use the Pareto principle and focus on the vital few
    3. Time: savings in time feel like simplicity
      • Speed is often attributed to the simplicity of the system
    4. Learn: knowledge makes everything simpler
      • Relate, translate, surprise
        • Relate: leverage the human instinct to relate
        • Translate: the relationship into a tangible object or service
        • Surprise: add a little surprise at the end (makes the time feel worthwhile)
    5. Differences: simplicity and complexity need each other
    6. Context: what lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral
      • There’s a tradeoff between being completely lost in the unknown and completely found in the familiar
        • How directed can I stand to feel?
        • How directionless can I afford to be?
      • Complexity implies the feeling of being lost, simplicity implies the feeling of being found.
        • Transitions from simple to complex are key
    7. Emotion: more emotions are better than less
      • Determine just the right kind of more (add back emotion)
      • Be sensitive to how you’re feeling.
      • Form follows function Feeling follows form.
      • Great art makes you wonder. Great design makes things clear.
        • Art a reason to live, is tempered with design (clarity of message)
      • Achieving clarity isn’t difficult, achieving comfort is harder
    8. Trust: in simplicity we trust
      • The more a system knows about you the less you should have to think
      • The more you know about the system, the more control you can exact
        • How much do you need to know about a system?
          • Effort is required to learn and master
        • How much does the system know about you?
          • Trust must be offered to the system (and constantly repaid by the system)
    9. Failure: some things can never be made simple
    10. The one: simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful
  • Three Keys
    • Away: more appears like less by simply moving it far, far away
    • Open: openness simplifies complexity
    • Power: use less, gain more
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Simplicity is Sanity

  • Simplicity is complex topic.
  • Originally 16 laws of simplicity.
  • New software releases often promise more features.
  • Google Search and the iPod are examples of simplicity selling
  • 10 laws are independent and can be used on their own.
  • The 10 Laws of simplicity:
    1. Reduce: the simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction
    2. Organise: organisation makes a system of many appear fewer
    3. Time: savings in time feel like simplicity
    4. Learn: knowledge makes everything simpler
    5. Differences: simplicity and complexity need each other
    6. Context: what lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral
    7. Emotion: more emotions are better than less
    8. Trust: in simplicity we trust
    9. Failure: some things can never be made simple
    10. The one: simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful
  • Three Keys
    • Away: more appears like less by simply moving it far, far away
    • Open: openness simplifies complexity
    • Power: use less, gain more

1. Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction

  • The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction
  • Theres a tradeoff / balance between complexity and simplicity?
    • Making something easy to use
    • Making something that’s able to do everything a person might want to do
  • When everything that can be removed is gone, use these three methods:
    • Shrink: make it small, this lowers expectations. Make it appear delicate and fragile (lightness and thinness). Smaller, lesser, humbler. Move value is delivered than originally expected.
      • Example: iPod fits in your hand, mirrored back made it seem smaller
    • Hide: hide the complexity. Hide it until you need it. It’s a form of deception. Complexity becomes a switch the owner can flip.
      • Example: the clamshell phone, the menu bar.
    • Embody: perception of quality becomes important after shrinking and hiding. Less needs to seem like more. Embody quality. You can invest in quality through craftsmanship or marketing (real or perceived).
  • Lessen what you can, conceal everything else without losing the sense of value. Embody a greater sense of quality through materials or messaging (counteract the hiding and shrinking).

2. Organise: Organisation makes a system of many appear fewer

  • Two questions of decluttering: What to hide? Where to put it?
    • To have a stable system though you need to ask… What goes with what?
  • Organisation makes a system of many appear fewer IF the number of groups is significantly less than the number of items.
  • Working with fewer makes life easier.
  • What goes with what?
    • Sort: find the natural groupings.
    • Label: Assign a name
    • Integrate: groups that appear significantly like each other
    • Prioritise: collect highest priority items into a single set so they receive the most attention
      • Use the Pareto principle and focus on the vital few
  • Tables are a rare visual magic that simplify data
  • The Principles of Gestalt to seek the most appropriate conceuptual fil are important
  • Apple oscillating from simple to complex to simplest
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  • Groups are good, too many groups are bad because they counteract the goal of grouping
  • Squint at the world → to see the forest from the trees

3. Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity

  • No one like to suffer the frustration of waiting
  • Speed is often attributed to the simplicity of the system
  • Shrinking time. Make small sacrifices to save large amounts of time. Amazon recommendations… we don’t see the whole catalogue, but that would take too long
  • Hide: When you can’t shrink a process anymore. Hide the passing of time. Casino’s don’t have windows or clocks. Hiding time doesn’t save time, but it creates the illusion of it.
    • telling people how much time they have left to wait is a humane practice (progress bar)
    • use styling to create the illusion of motion and speed
  • How can you make the wait shorter?
  • How can you make the wait more tolerable?

4. Learn: Knowledge makes everything simpler

  • Knowledge makes everything simpler, but taking time to learn feels like you’re wasting time
  • Use your brain → learning occurs best when there is desire
  • Set a challenge, give a reward.
  • Basics are the beginning: assume the position of the first time learner.
  • Repeat yourself often: simplicity and repetition are related.
  • Avoid creating desperation. Wow can become woah.. and induce anxiety
  • Inspire with examples. Inspiration is the ultimate catalyst, internal motivation trumps external reward
  • Never forget to repeat yourself
  • Relate, translate, surprise
    • Relate: leverage the human instinct to relate
    • Translate: the relationship into a tangible object or service
    • Surprise: add a little surprise at the end (makes the time feel worthwhile)
  • Relate, translate, surprise → relies on having a common experience on which to map your own (limited to similar customs and cultures)
  • Some reward systems stem from recognising progress itself as the payoff

5. Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other

  • The more complexity in the market, the more simplicity will stand out
  • There’s a rhythm as you dip from simplicity to complexity

6. Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral

  • Our eyes and attention work by focusing on something at any given time
  • Automagically the right thing comes into focus when we need it to
  • What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral → this law emphasises the importance of what might have been lost in the design process
  • Nothing is something. White space. Space in the margins of a book invite chaos.
  • Small things matter more when you’re forced to pay attention to them
  • The ambient environment will take precedence over the fore-ground when there is nothing to fixate upon except everything that surrounds
  • Creating a clean space allows the foreground to stand out from the background
  • Being attuned to what surrounds us in the ambient environment can sometimes help us manage what’s immediately in front of us.
  • There’s a tradeoff between being completely lost in the unknown and completely found in the familiar
    • How directed can I stand to feel?
    • How directionless can I afford to be?
  • Complexity implies the feeling of being lost, simplicity implies the feeling of being found.
    • Transitions from simple to complex are key

7. Emotion: More emotions are better than less

  • Sometimes reduction can go too far
  • Removing all emotion from something
  • Determine just the right kind of more (add back emotion)
  • Be sensitive to how you’re feeling.
  • Form follows function Feeling follows form.
  • Emoji’s and smilies emerged because we need to inject human emotion into what we do
  • Children don’t mute their emotions as much as adults
  • Nude electronics: making electronics smooth, seamless and small
  • People often use cases as a form of self expression
  • In Japan Shintoism, or ‘Animism’ is the believe that everything in the environment, including inanimate objects had a living spirit and deserved respect.
    • Aichaku → Japanese term of a sense of attachment one can feel for an artifact (means love-fit)
  • Great art makes you wonder. Great design makes things clear.
    • Art a reason to live, is tempered with design (clarity of message)
  • Achieving clarity isn’t difficult, achieving comfort is harder
  • Emotional intelligence is important. Fulfilment from living a meaningful life is the ROE return on emotion.

8. Trust: In simplicity we trust

  • In simplicity we trust.
  • We can only relax when we trust that we’re in the finest hands and are treated with the best of intentions
  • Omakase → Japanese for ‘I’ll leave it up to you’
  • Just undo it → knowing something is reversible later, makes things simpler
  • The more a system knows about you the less you should have to think
  • The more you know about the system, the more control you can exact
    • How much do you need to know about a system?
      • Effort is required to learn and master
    • How much does the system know about you?
      • Trust must be offered to the system (and constantly repaid by the system)
  • Privacy is sacrificed for convenience

9. Failure: Some things can never be made simple

  • Some things can never be made simple. Simplicity can be elusive in certain cases.
  • Author speaks through the other rules, and there’s some regret they couldn’t make them simpler
    • Group 1: Acronym Overload: Reduce → organise → time → learn
      • SHE: shrink, hide, embody
      • SLIP: sort, label, integrate, prioritise
    • Group 2: Bad gestalts: Differences, context, emotion, trust

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

Keys

1. Away: More appears like less by simply moving it far, far away

  • Shift things away, allow the complexity to be handled elsewhere, just keep the connection to it

2. Open: Openness simplifies complexity

  • With an open system the power of the many can outweigh the power of a few
  • Using APIs and services creates a simplicity

3. Power: Use less, gain more

  • Every rechargeable device is like a new pet that must be fed
  • Use less energy, and use it more wisely