The Laws of Simplicity
by John Maeda
- Ashto =
- Jonesy =
What You Will Learn from The Laws of Simplicity
Join Ashto and Jonesy as they explore the insights and perspectives presented in John Maeda’s groundbreaking book, “The Laws of Simplicity.” In this introduction, we will provide an overview of the book’s core ideas and illustrate the importance of simplicity in our increasingly complex world. Maeda, a renowned designer, professor, and artist, shares ten key laws that can guide the pursuit of simplicity in design, business, and life.
In today’s fast-paced world, where complexity is often equated with sophistication, simplicity has become a popular alternative. Companies like Citibank and Ford have embraced the value of simplicity, implementing straightforward strategies such as the simplicity credit card and keep-it-simple pricing.
“The Laws of Simplicity” delves into the increasing popularity of simplicity as a solution to contemporary business problems. Maeda posits that streamlining products can lead to unexpected advantages, exemplified by the triumph of the Apple iPod and Google’s search engine.
Simplicity isn’t only about minimizing features or elements; it’s also about fostering an emotional connection with consumers. Designs that inspire passionate loyalty often make people’s lives simpler, positioning simplicity as a vital strategic tool for businesses aiming to advance the economy.
Maeda’s book is more than a design principle; it’s a way of life. He outlines ten laws of simplicity that can help designers, business leaders, and individuals simplify their lives. By following these laws, which focus on reduction, organization, and time-saving, we can create simpler, more elegant, intuitive, and enjoyable products and solutions.
Stay tuned as we delve deeper into each law and discover the power of simplicity in design, business, and life.
Law 1 of The Laws of Simplicity: Reduce – The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
Maeda emphasizes that the most straightforward way to attain simplicity is by thoughtfully reducing a system’s functionality. For example, modern DVD players often feature an overwhelming number of buttons, which can frustrate users who simply wish to play a movie. A potential solution is to eliminate unnecessary buttons, leaving only the essential PLAY button.
However, striking the right balance between simplicity and complexity can be a challenge. While it’s important for a product or service to be user-friendly, it’s equally important for it to cater to all possible user needs. This makes the process of attaining optimal simplicity complex in itself.
Maeda recommends achieving simplicity through thoughtful reduction. When unsure, it’s better to remove elements. But it’s crucial to be discerning about what you eliminate. Deciding what should stay and what should go can be difficult, and we often prefer to keep everything, even if it results in a more complicated system.
To help with this process, Maeda introduces the acronym SHE: Shrink, Hide, and Embody. This involves reducing the design to its essential components, concealing complexity behind a simple interface, and integrating simplicity into the design itself.
By thoughtfully reducing a system’s functionality, designers can create products that are more elegant, intuitive, and enjoyable to use. Simplifying design not only enhances the user experience but can also lead to increased productivity and profitability.
Designers frequently use techniques to create small objects that have a big impact by making them appear delicate and fragile. Throughout history, artists have practiced this skill. Artists train to evoke emotions in their fellow human beings through their work, be it pity, fear, anger, or any other feeling.
Among the many tools at an artist’s disposal to achieve enhanced small-ification, lightness and thinness are particularly effective. For example, the mirrored back of an Apple iPhone creates the illusion that the object is only as thin as the floating white or plastic layer because the rest of the object adapts to its surroundings. Designers achieve the appearance of lighter flat-screen displays such as LCDs or plasmas by placing them on minimal structural supports or even invisible platforms.
Designs that incorporate lightness and thinness convey the impression of being smaller, lesser, and humbler. This shift from pity to respect occurs when the design delivers more value than was initially anticipated. By incorporating the SHE: Shrink principle into design, we can create objects that not only exceed our expectations but also provide unexpected pleasure in their small yet powerful form.
The power of the SHE: Shrink principle is not limited to physical objects. It can also be applied to digital design. For example, a mobile app that is small in size but delivers a powerful user experience can be just as effective as a larger, more complex app. Similarly, a website designed to be simple and easy to use can have a significant impact on users.
Designers recognize the importance of simplicity, and John Maeda’s “The Laws of Simplicity” introduces the principle of SHE: Hide. This principle involves concealing complexity by removing unnecessary features to create a slim and light product. The Swiss Army knife is a classic example of this technique, exposing only the tool in use, making it easy to use, and keeping it compact.
Past designers hid less-used functions behind hidden doors while keeping primary functions exposed. Today, cell phone makers balance elegant simplicity with all-inclusive complexity through clamshell, slide-away, or flip-out mechanisms that conceal functionality until users need it.
Bing vs. Google serves as a prime example of the SHE: Hide principle in search engines. While both perform the same function, Google conceals much of the complexity behind a simple, uncluttered interface, whereas Bing has a more intricate interface with numerous visible features and options.
Using the SHE: Hide principle, designers can create elegant and user-friendly products. Hiding complexity makes it less likely for users to become overwhelmed, allowing them to use the product to its full potential.
To embody quality in design, the third principle in John Maeda’s book “The Laws of Simplicity” is SHE: Embody. This principle emphasizes the importance of infusing a product with a sense of value that goes beyond its mere function. The goal is to make consumers perceive the product as more valuable than its competitors.
Embodying quality is not just a matter of design or technology. It’s primarily a business decision. Companies can achieve this by using superior materials and craftsmanship or creating a thoughtful marketing campaign that emphasizes the product’s quality.
One powerful way to enhance the perception of quality is through marketing. A well-executed marketing campaign can make a product seem more valuable and desirable. For example, many consumers associate Nike sneakers with the excellence and success of Michael Jordan, even though there is no inherent connection between the two.
In the luxury goods industry, quality is the foundation on which products are built. The finest materials are used and exceptional attention is given to every detail of the crafting process. For instance, Ferrari cars have more parts than a typical car, but each part is of exceptional quality, surpassing anything else on Earth.
Embodying quality is not just limited to luxury goods. Every product can benefit from a perception of quality, whether it’s through superior materials or a thoughtful marketing campaign. By embodying quality in their products, companies can create a sense of value that goes beyond the product’s function and encourages consumers to choose their product over the competition.
The SHE principle is a design philosophy that can simplify product development. It consists of four steps: Shrink, Hide, Embody, and SHE’d.
The first step is to reduce complexity by eliminating unnecessary features and elements, creating a slimmer, lighter, and more efficient product.
The second step involves concealing complexity through methods like hiding less frequently used functions behind hidden doors or compartments, which reduces cognitive overload and creates a clean, minimalist interface.
The third step of the SHE principle is to imbue the product with a sense of value that may be lost after simplifying and hiding complexity. Designers can achieve this by using high-quality materials, exquisite craftsmanship, or thoughtful marketing campaigns. This transforms the product into an item of perceived worth, giving consumers a reason to desire it and feel satisfied with their purchase. Finally, the product can be further reduced by eliminating everything that is not essential while maintaining its inherent value.
By integrating these principles, designers and developers can create products that balance simplicity, functionality, and perceived value. This is particularly important in a competitive market where consumers have many options to choose from. The goal is to create products that are both elegant and efficient, providing users with an engaging and satisfying experience.
Law 2 of The Laws of Simplicity – Organization makes a system of many appear fewer
Managing complexity in the home can be a challenging task. Clutter seems to accumulate quickly, and it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do with it all. There are three common solutions to this problem: buying a bigger house, putting everything into storage, or organizing your assets systematically.
However, these solutions often have mixed results. A larger home may initially reduce clutter, but ultimately, it can enable more clutter. Storage may provide more empty space, but it can be quickly filled with more stuff.
Instead of spreading out or hiding clutter, which is a simplistic approach, we can apply the second law of simplicity: organize. The key is to ask two questions: “what to hide” and “where to put it.”
A messy room can become free of clutter in no time, but an effective organization scheme is necessary for long-term success. For example, in a closet, we can group like items such as neckties, shirts, slacks, jackets, socks, and shoes. A thousand-piece wardrobe can be organized into six categories, making it more manageable.
Organizing should create fewer groups than items to be organized, making a system of many appear simpler and life easier when faced with too many choices. This involves working with fewer objects, concepts, functions, and corresponding buttons to press.
However, achieving integration across disparate elements can be complex, requiring more than just organizing one’s closet. Organizing is a critical step in achieving simplicity and reducing clutter in your home and life. By grouping similar items and organizing effectively, you can make a system of many appear fewer, ultimately leading to a more simplified and peaceful home.
SLIP – what goes with what?
The concept of SLIP, which stands for Sort, Label, Integrate, and Prioritize, is a valuable tool in simplifying our lives. It helps us see the forest from the trees and find natural groupings in the data we are dealing with.
When we encounter complex information, like matching pairs of socks that are not the same make or model, it can be difficult to determine how to organize them. SLIP provides us with a simple and effective process for doing so.
Sort: Begin by writing down each item or piece of information that needs to be organized on a Post-it note. Move the notes around on a flat surface until you find natural groupings.
Label: Give each group a relevant name or label.
Integrate: Whenever possible, integrate groups that are significantly similar. Some groups may need to be broken apart.
Prioritize: Collect the highest priority items into a single set to ensure that they receive the most attention. Consider the Pareto principle as a rule of thumb. Assume that 80% of the data can be managed at a lower priority, with the remaining 20% requiring the highest level of attention.
This applies to various aspects of life, such as organizing your closet, managing tasks, or sorting through your email inbox. By breaking things down into manageable chunks, you can tackle complexity and achieve a sense of simplicity.
Remember, simplicity doesn’t mean eliminating everything. Rather, it’s about identifying what’s essential and focusing on that. With SLIP, you can organize your life and achieve greater simplicity without sacrificing what’s important.
Squint to open your eyes
In order to achieve simplicity and organization, it’s important to understand the concept of squinting. Squinting is a technique used by designers to see the forest from the trees, to find the right balance between complexity and simplicity. It involves looking at something with a different perspective, with the goal of seeing more by seeing less.
Groups are important in achieving simplicity, but too many groups can counteract the goal of grouping. Blurred groupings can be powerful, appearing even simpler, but at the cost of becoming more abstract. Squinting can help find the right balance between groups and blur by looking at something from a different perspective.
Squinting at the world allows you to see more by seeing less. It’s a way of looking at the world that is driven by design and creativity. The best designers in the world all use this technique to achieve simplicity and organization in their work.
In summary, squinting is an important tool for achieving simplicity and organization. It allows you to see the forest from the trees, to find the right balance between complexity and simplicity. Squinting can help you see more by seeing less, and create designs that are both functional and pleasing. Try it next time you face a design challenge for a fresh perspective and new insights.
Lesson 6 – What lies in the peripherey of simplicify is definitely not peripheral
When we strive for excellence, we tend to focus solely on the foreground, sacrificing everything in the background to achieve our goals. However, the law of simplicity emphasizes that what lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
It is essential to consider what might become lost during the design process. Sometimes, what appears to be of immediate relevance may not be nearly as important compared to everything else around it. We should strive for an enlightened shallowness, where we pay attention to every detail, even the seemingly insignificant ones.
We often forget how the ambient environment can affect our perception of simplicity. For instance, the room we sit in can influence the taste of food, and the ambiance is a crucial factor in any great meal or memorable interaction. Similarly, the clutter on our desks can taint our experience of any task at hand, but the uplifting smile of a nearby child can help us tune it out.
Being attuned to what surrounds us in the ambient environment can help us to manage what’s immediately in front of us. Synthesizing the ambient experience of simplicity requires attention to everything that seemingly does not matter. We need to understand that achieving simplicity is not solely about what is visible but also about what is hidden in the periphery.
By embracing the peripheral, we can create an environment that enhances simplicity and improves our overall experience. In design, we should consider every aspect of the user experience, including the context, to achieve a harmonious balance between the main focus and peripheral elements, resulting in a more satisfying experience.
In summary, the periphery of simplicity plays a crucial role in our overall experience and should not be disregarded. By paying attention to the ambient environment and the seemingly insignificant details, we can create designs and experiences that embody true simplicity and bring greater satisfaction to our lives.
Nothing is something
Law 7 – more emotions are better than less
In a world filled with information and choices, design serves not only functionality and practicality but also emotional responses. Designers should connect with people emotionally, rather than limiting design to a problem-solving tool.
Adding more emotions to a design can be achieved through the use of ornaments or layers of meaning. This approach values feeling over form and encourages designers to consider the emotional impact of their work.
Etiquette is an example where the emotional responses that come with communication are as important as its function. The way we speak, write, and behave should be considered as part of a larger emotional context in design.
Emojis and smileys are another example of how we use design to better express emotions in our communication. These symbols have evolved to capture the nuances of communication that we take for granted in speech, but are difficult to convey in writing. They allow us to better connect with people on an emotional level and add depth to our conversations.
An emotional connection with products can increase brand loyalty and satisfaction. For example, Apple’s sleek design and intuitive user experience instill pride and enjoyment in their users.
To conclude, design involves more than just simplicity and practicality; it also requires an emotional connection. Incorporating emotions into a design can make it more relatable and appealing, setting it apart from other products. By considering the emotional impact of their work, designers can create solutions that not only solve problems but also evoke positive responses. This approach can result in more successful products and services and a stronger connection with the people who use them.
Law 5 – differences – simplicity and complexity need each other
Simplicity and complexity are two sides of the same coin, and they create a balanced and engaging experience. Like a child’s ice cream sundae with various toppings that add depth to the taste, a product’s simplicity benefits from a touch of complexity.
In the world of design, differences and contrasts help us appreciate and understand the unique aspects of a design. For example, someone might not like pink, but when it is used as a dash of brightness in a drab sea of olive green, the pink appears bold and vibrant. This contrast allows us to appreciate the simplicity and complexity within the design.
The iPod is a prime example of balance, standing out in the MP3 market with its simplicity compared to complex competitors. Its sleek design and straightforward user interface made it user-friendly, while still offering various features for different user preferences.
When designing a product or service, consider both simplicity and complexity and how they can work together. By consciously incorporating complexity in a way that enhances overall simplicity, we can create standout products that provide a unique and engaging user experience.
Simplicity and complexity complement each other in design. By balancing the two, designers can create products and experiences that resonate with users. Incorporating both in a complementary way, like various ice cream toppings or contrasting colors, can result in standout products such as the iPod.
Law 10 – Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful
Simplicity is more than just visual appeal – it’s about identifying the core of what really matters and eliminating everything else. This process of subtraction requires an in-depth understanding of the problem at hand, and the ability to discern what is essential from what is not.
We frequently become bogged down in details and lose sight of the big picture. We tend to focus on adding more features and functions, instead of taking a step back to consider what really matters. This is where Law 10 comes in – subtracting the obvious and adding meaning is the key to simplicity.
By simplifying, we can create a clear and powerful message that resonates with people on a deeper level. We strip away the unnecessary, allowing the essential to shine through. This process requires us to let go of our preconceptions and challenge ourselves to think differently.
Simplicity is about finding beauty in the basics – creating something that is both functional and elegant, without sacrificing either. It’s about understanding what truly matters and focusing on that, rather than being distracted by the noise around us.
The next time you’re faced with a complex problem, remember Law 10. Focus on subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful. Embrace simplicity and all the power it holds.
Conclusion to The Laws Of Simplicity
In conclusion, simplicity is about creating accessible, efficient, and effective experiences while maintaining a sense of elegance and beauty. The 10 laws of simplicity provide a framework for achieving simplicity in design, communication, and life.
The Laws of Simplicity are a set of principles that guide designers and creators in simplifying their work. The first law encourages reducing complexity and focusing on what’s essential, while the second reminds us that too many groups can be counterproductive. Third, we must learn from context and prioritize what’s important, and fourth, constraints can unleash creativity. Additionally, simplicity and complexity need each other, while what lies in the periphery of simplicity is not peripheral. Emotions play a crucial role in design, and embracing technology only if it enhances our lives is essential. To design for the future, we must understand the past, and simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful, as Law 10 reminds us.
Simplicity is an ongoing journey that requires constant learning, experimentation, and refinement. By applying the 10 laws of simplicity, we can make a positive impact on the world and in our own lives. The benefits of simplicity include increased focus, productivity, and happiness. So let’s simplify our lives and embrace the power of less.