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The Laws of Simplicity – John Maeda May 3, 2010

Posted by Laura Paajanen in Uncategorized.

The Laws of Simplicity

John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity is a short (purposely limited to 100 pages) exploration of simplicity in design, business, and life. He presents ten laws and three keys to simplicity (below), accompanied by stories ranging from the usual suspects in design like Apple, Google, and Bang & Olufsen to experiences with zen gardens, smileys and progress bars.
Ten Laws

Law 1: REDUCE. The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
Law 2: ORGANIZE. Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
Law 3: TIME. Savings in time feel like simplicity.
Law 4: LEARN. Knowledge makes everything simpler.
Law 5: DIFFERENCES. Simplicity and complexity need each other.
Law 6: CONTEXT. What lies in the periphery of simplicity os definitely not peripheral.
Law 7: EMOTION. More emotions are better than less.
Law 8: TRUST. In simplicity we trust.
Law 9: FAILURE. Some things can never be made simple.
Law 10: THE ONE. Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

Three Keys
Key 1: AWAY. More appears like less simply by moving it far, far away.
Key 2: OPEN. Openness simplifies complexity.
Key 3: POWER. Use less, gain more.

While the book was good as an exploration of whether simplicity can be generalized into a range of situations, it seemed limited by its quick introductory nature and could have been more well-rounded by going deeper into the subject. Additionally, the ten laws, three keys, and handful of abbreviations (SHE: Shrink, Hide, Embody; SLIP: Sort, Label, Integrate, Priorotize; BRAIN: Basics are the beginning, Repeat yourself often, Avoid creating desperation, Inspire with examples, Never forget to repeat yourself) add up a complex set of lists. Towards the end of the book, Maeda critiqued his own writing, and touched on this point of ‘acronym overload’; it was refreshing to see an author recognize the imperfections in his theories.

Maeda also noted that his laws could be further simplified, and that more exploration would happen on the accompanying website, http://lawsofsimplicity.com/ One post I enjoyed is a link to a slideshow by MobiusView ( http://www.slideshare.net/MobiusView/simplicity-523441 ) that did simplify and integrate the laws into three groups: “simplify, learn, connect.” It appears that the site was left stagnant around late 2008 as he moved on to other projects, so the book and site may now serve as a light but engaging starting point for readers newly interested in simplicity, though they’ll have to look for more detailed analysis elsewhere.


1. Jon Pittman - May 3, 2010

Don Norman has commented that the search for simplicity is often misguided because we try to simplify things that are inherently complex Do you think this is so?

It sounds like you think John Maeda tried to simplify the book but failed to keep it simple enough – or did not go deep enough? Which one? It is quite a challenge to simplify a complex topic like simplicity.

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