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Book Summary – The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life

The Laws of Simplicity - Book summary

Technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated. On the one hand, it offers more options for our work and personal lives. On the other hand, it also adds clutter and complexity to our lives. “The Laws of Simplicity” by John Maeda presents 10 laws and 3 keys that you can use to simplify your business, technology, product designs and life in general. In this free summary of The Laws of Simplicity, we’ll briefly outline these laws and concepts. For more details and examples, do get our complete book summary bundle.The Laws of Simplicity summary - Book summary

Overview: The Laws of Simplicity

Simplicity has real business value—people love solutions that are easy to understand/learn, and can simplify their lives. As a former professor at the MIT Media Lab, John Maeda started the MIT SIMPLICITY Consortium to explore how to create simplicity-driven products that can succeed in the marketplace. He later became the President at the Rhode Island School of Design before entering the corporate world.

In this book, he distills his insights into 10 laws of simplicity. You can apply these laws separately or in combination to get more with less.
Laws 1-3 are about basic simplicity, or how to think about design. This could range from product design to the layout of your home.
Laws 4-6 are about intermediate simplicity, or the subtleties of simplicity in design.
Laws 7-9 are about deep simplicity, which involve complex tradeoffs or concepts that must be considered in depth.
Law 10 is the overarching law that wraps up all the 9 laws above.

While the ideas and principles relate primarily to business and technology, you can also apply them to life in general.

The 10 Laws of Simplicity

In the book, John Maeda uses his own set of icons for the 10 laws. For this article and our infographic summary, we’ve come up with our own visual representation of the key ideas. Here’s a quick visual overview:

The Laws of Simplicity summary_The 10 laws at a glanceFor each of these laws, Maeda shares examples and tips on how to apply them in real-life. We’ll dive into more details of the 1st law in this free summary. Do get our complete version of The Laws of Simplicity summary (click here for full 14-page summary) for details on all 10 laws.

Law #1: Reduce

“The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

One of the biggest challenges in design is to achieve a balance between simplicity and complexity. You want a product/service to be easy to use, yet be able to do whatever the user wants. True simplification is achieved when you manage to reduce something’s functionality without a major penalty or loss of value.

Start with this rule of thumb: When in doubt, remove it. However beware of removing critical features of real value.

After you’ve removed all possible features, apply the SHE principle.
• Shink it by making it smaller, slimmer, lighter etc. Generally, we expect less from a small object, i.e. shrinking a product lowers expectations. We are more tolerant if it malfunctions, and are more easily satisfied if it works well. When the iPod was first launched, people were impressed that such a tiny device could store so many songs.
Hide the complex or extra functions until they’re needed. Like the Swiss army knife, you want to only activate the required tool while keeping the rest hidden. Websites and mobile apps show only a few items on the menu bars, with click-to-reveal features for users to find additional options. The idea is to give users the choice of turning the complexities on/off.
Embody quality. Users will only choose a smaller product with fewer functions if it seems more valuable than a larger product with more features. Quality can be real (e.g. better materials or workmanship) or perceived (e.g. endorsements or branding). Bang & Olufsen effectively uses a mix of real and perceived qualities—it uses good materials to produce sleek and slender remote controls, yet makes them intentionally heavier to convey superior quality. Ultimately, the decision of how to embody quality is a business choice, not a design one.

In short, remove what you can from a system. Then, shrink it, hide everything else without losing perceived value, and use materials or messaging cues to enhance the quality portrayed.

Digest these powerful tips in minutes with our summary & infographic!

Laws of Simplicity #2-9

Do check out our full text, graphic and audio summaries for more details on all 10 laws. Here are the 10 laws of simplicity in a nutshell:

Reduce: “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”
Organize: “Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.”
Time: “Savings in time feel like simplicity.”
Learn: “Knowledge makes everything simpler.”
Differences: “Simplicity and complexity need each other.”
Context: “What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.”
Emotions: “More emotions are better than less.”
Trust: “In Simplicity we trust.”
Failure: “Some things can never be made simple.”
The One: “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.”


The 3 Technology Keys

There are also 3 additional technological developments that affect simplicity, but don’t fit into any of the 10 laws. These are: Away, Open and Power (more details covered in our full book summary.  You can target them for your R&D or investments to further simplify your work and business.


Other Details in “The Laws of Simplicity”

This is a short, easy-to-read book written in a conversational style. John Maeda shares his views, unanswered questions, examples, personal anecdotes and his own icons for the 10 laws (which we’ve modified in our summary). Do get a copy of the book for the full details, get our complete summary bundle for a detailed overview of various laws and tips, or check out more resources/details


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Use the laws of simplicity to reduce clutter and make things easier in work and life!

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