Review – The Laws of Simplicity

Note:  Today, we have added a new article category devoted to simplicity – Editor

Review of “The Laws of Simplicity“:  Book and website by John Maeda, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

ARL Rating:  B+

From the site“This site is devoted to my ongoing thought processes regarding the topic of simplicity. I wrote and designed a book entitled The Laws of Simplicity to let the ideas take root. Here online, I continue to develop the thoughts that surround the paradoxically complex topic of simplicity.”

General Impressions –  As a forward-thinking designer (and President of RISD), Maeda provides an important perspective on what might be thought of as the “elegant solution”.  Like most designers, Maeda exhibits a bit more bias towards the esthetic end of the spectrum, rather than the practical.  That’s natural enough and, frankly, much of the appeal in the “modern” Simplicity movement may be similarly inclined. 

As one reviewer of Maeda’s book notes, “At the book’s heart is the Shinto belief in animism, the spirit in all objects. Nicholas Negroponte, one of Maeda’s mentors, once told him to become a lightbulb, not a laser beam.”  Well, beam me up, Scotty, that’s a bit on the “space-cookie” end of the spectrum for most of us here at ARL. 

Still, as may be referenced occasionally on this site, there can be much to learn from other blind men groping our elephant.  While many here at ARL lean a bit more to the practical side of the scale, we would always prefer the most beautiful practical solution.

Note:  Maeda’s book has not been read, thus, the review comments here relate primarily to Maeda’s web-content.

Our take on “The Laws” – as set forth by Maeda 

Law 1: Reduce – “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”  Check.
Law 2: Organize  –  “Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.”  Check.
Law 3: Time  –  “Savings in time feel like simplicity.”  Dude, are we talking about efficiency?  Just say it, can’t hurt you.  I don’t really care what it “feels like”, unless we’re simply trying to reduce stress over a busy life.  In that case, check.
Law 4: Learn  –  “Knowledge makes everything simpler.”  Might have to mull that one a bit.  It might be axiomatic that “the more I know, the more I know what I don’t know”.  Where that leads to humility, good enough, but look out for “simple” confusion.
Law 5: Differences  –  “Simplicity and complexity need each other.”  Snatch the pebble from my hand, grasshopper, and yin my yang.  OK, in principle, we’ll go with “check”, there is a balancing act, right?
Law 6: Context  –  “What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.”  Don’t Bogart that joint, Eugene. 
Law 7: Emotion  –  “More emotions are better than less.”  Subject to Law 5, right?  Passion is a good thing, within reason. Check.
Law 8: Trust  –  “In simplicity we trust.”  I think that’s generally true. Check.
Law 9: Failure  –  “Some things can never be made simple.”  Double Check.
Law 10: The One  –  “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.”  Reasonable enough. Reduce to the essential, which had better include meaning.  Check.

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