John Maeda's new book, The Laws of Simplicity, is essentially a set of ten associated essays on principles of design. While the goals and concept of the book are reasonable, it is flawed in its execution by two factors: lack of tangibility and, frankly, silly word games.
Each of Maeda's chapters covers a particular principle that should be applied when designing to achieve simplicity. For example, Reduce (e.g. reduce extraneous features and ornaments) and Organize (e.g. categorize information into related groupings). These happen to be the most straightforward of the ten principles. I'd be hard pressed to give you a succinct, actionable definition of some of the other principles, such as Differences or The One. Perhaps Maeda is going from the concrete to the abstract as he presents his sequence of principles - if that is the case, it is not explained.
Maeda rarely provides tangible examples of where and how these principles have been applied. A notable exception is a dot-cluster diagram (worth looking at) that illustrates the variations in control placement across the evolution of the Apple iPod controls. It would have been useful if that technique was discussed in more detail and applied to more examples. Unfortunately, space for meaningful content was limited given the compactness of the 100 page book. Maedea refers the reader to forthcoming examples on the companion Web site.
Which leads me to the other flaw of the book - there is a great deal of text and time (both the author's and readers') on word games and acronyms. For example:
"...I had the simple observation that the letters "M", "I" and "T"-the letters by which my university is known - occur in natural sequence in the word SIMPLICITY. In fact, the same can be said of the word COMPLEXITY."
Yes, that is a simple observation - but one worth noting? Especially in a book of 100 pages that espouses the principle to Reduce? Other verbal devices include a set of acronyms for remembering subcomponents of the key principles. Certainly acronyms are an effective mnemonic, but in this case (SHE, HER, BRAIN), I'm not sure if the information contained within the acronyms is worth remembering. For example, Madea's acronym for learning (BRAIN):
- BASICS are the beginning
- REPEAT yourself often
- AVOID creating desperation
- INSPIRE with examples
- NEVER forget to repeat yourself
As a usability practitioner I certainly appreciate the value of Maeda's contribution, but I struggle with how to classify this book. It's meandering, stream of consciousness style, lends itself more to a philosophical monologue, rather than a educational tool on the meaning and value of simplicity. For the more results-oriented reader, I strongly recommend Universal Principles of Design - in both is content and format it truly embodies simplicity, rather than just paying it lip service.