Book Summary - The Laws of Simplicity (John Maeda) (2024)

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. In this book, 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 version of The Laws of Simplicity summary, we’ll briefly outline these laws and concepts.

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:

Book Summary - The Laws of Simplicity (John Maeda) (1)For 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 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. endorsem*nts 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.

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.

Getting the Most from The Laws of Simplicity

In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 14-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.

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). You can purchase the book here for the full details, or check out more resources/details

About the Author of The Laws of Simplicity

The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life is written by John Maeda–an American executive, designer, and technologist. He was a Professor at the MIT Media Lab for 12 years, after which he served as the President of Rhode Island School of Deign from 2008-2013. Thereafter he worked as a Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and as the Global Head (Computational Design and Inclusion) at Automattic, amongst other roles. Maeda was one of the pioneers of interactive motion graphics, now widely found on the internet. In 2008, Esquire named Maeda one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century. He has also received several design awards and Honorary doctorates.

The Laws of Simplicity Quotes

“When it is possible to reduce a system’s functionality without significant penalty, true simplification is realized.”

“Small changes in organization [can] create big differences in a design.”

“We know how to appreciate something better when we can compare it to something else.”

“Nothing is an important something…When there is less, we appreciate everything much more.”

“While great art makes you wonder, great design makes things clear.”


Book SummaryBusinessDeclutterDesignJohn MaedaProduct DevelopmentSimplify LifeTechnologyThe Laws of Simplicity

Book Summary - The Laws of Simplicity (John Maeda) (2024)
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