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Book Review: The Laws of Simplicity

Book | Author | Review

By , SAP User Experience, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – November 6, 2006

This review takes a personal look at John Maeda's book The Laws of Simplicity.


Cover of Laws of Simplicity     

John Maeda
The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life
The MIT Press, 2006
ISBN: 0262134721

General, Design




John MaedaJohn Maeda is a graphic designer, visual artist and computer scientist. He founded the SIMPLICITY Consortium at the MIT Media Lab where he is professor of Media Arts and Sciences. His works have been exhibited in Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris, and numerous other places all over the world.
(from book cover, adapted)



In his book The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda outlines ten laws of simplicity that can be used as guidelines for better product or even business design.

The proposed laws are as follows:

  • 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 is 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.

Simplicity is one of today's buzzwords. But what does it mean? Instead of treating it as a complex, theory-laden construct, Maeda answers this question with extraordinary lightness and wit.
Referring to his own book as a "framework" and equating simplicity with sanity, Maeda points the way to less complex, more enjoyable products.

Starting with thoughtful reduction, followed by Gestalt psychology basics demonstrated by Apple's iPod, Maeda touches on topics such as time perception, didactic basics, context-related information, and emotions without ever confusing the reader.

With an accurate eye he brings life to the idea of simplicity by animating it with everyday-life observations, such us a sushi dinner or his mother's aesthetic preferences.

What is more, Maeda does not only write about simplicity, he adheres to his proposed laws by achieving simplicity in the book's contents (language), volume (100 pages), and design.

These examples together with his reduced (Law 1), organized (Law 2), and time saving (Law 3) presentation of design principles make this book a compelling and usable approach – this is a "must-read."
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