Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quick Overview of The Laws of Simplicity

Conversations regarding the need to manage and reduce complexity have been taking place in the computer industry for a long time now. Computers enable complexity to grow exponentially. The practices of information architecture and interaction design were developed to address this issue and to enable people and organizations to use computation as an effective communication medium.

Now that computation technology has become a pervasive element of our professional and personal lives, the complexity related to managing exponentially growing volumes of information has spilled over into our day-to-day life experience. Simplicity is becoming crucial to the maintenance of our own sanity.

John Maeda's book about simplicity outlines a set of useful "laws" and "keys" to help individuals and organizations better understand how to leverage simplicity - in both personal and professional realms. In the spirit of the laws outlined in this book, I will keep my overview as short as possible.

Before I dive into the rules I wanted to share a quote from Muji that I found on the book's website ( To me this quote encapsulates an interesting perspective on simplicity that is at the core of John's vision of simplicity: "Muji is simplicity - but simplicity achieved through a complexity of thought and design."

The 10 Laws of Simplicity
  1. Reduce - simplest way to achieve simplicity
  2. Organize - helps disguise many things into fewer entities
  3. Time - saving time feels like simplicity
  4. Learn - knowledge makes things simpler
  5. Differences - simplicity and complexity are like yin & yang
  6. Context - simplicity is highly context-dependent
  7. Emotion - emotions are important to deliver simplicity
  8. Trust - trust makes things simpler
  9. Failure - some things can't be made simpler
  10. The one - "Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful."
The 3 Keys 
  1. Away - Moving elements far away makes more appear like less
  2. Open - Openness reduces complexity by bringing to bear the power of many
  3. Power - Use less, freedom from power is the only to provide simplicity 
That pretty much covers the main concepts from the book. Before wrapping up I also want to go over three acronyms developed to provide strategies for the implementation of the reduce, organize and learn laws. 
  • To reduce complexity once all elements that can be removed have been removed, the next steps to take are shrinking, then hiding, and lastly embodying (SHE). This last step refers to the process of embedding the simplified object with a sense of value.
  • To use organization to reduce complexity four steps are outlined: sort, label, integrate, prioritize (SLIP). I prefer to call the second step "group" rather than "label" so that it is not confused with the first step. That, however, does away with John's acronym.  
  • To transfer knowledge in order to reduce complexity there are five things to keep in mind: Basics - cover the basics, Repeat - repeat information often, Avoid - avoid causing desperation, Inspire - use examples to inspire, Never - don't forget to repeat (BRAIN)

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