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The Laws of Simplicity

by John Maeda
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA, 2006
106 pages, $20.00/12.95
ISBN: 0-262-13472-1.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan 48710


Early on, John Maeda's Simplicity made this reviewer recall Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millenium, another slim, elegant book. In it, Calvino laid out in five university lectures (all that he completed) the literary qualities, like "lightness" and "quickness" that he wanted to see carried into literature in the future. It was the last thing he wrote before his death and was published posthumously in 1988.

Maeda rightly cites Calvino's book as inspiration. Maeda is head of the Simplicity Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), working with the Lab's corporate partners to determine the business value of simplicity. The group maintains the website www.lawsofsimplicity.com , and Maeda is such a company (excuse me, university) guy that he delights in pointing out how MIT is found in the word "Simplicity", the cover displaying the three letters in silver foil.

The book delivers 10 one-word laws, supplemented by three keys. The law "Reduce" then breaks down into commands to Shrink, Hide and Embody." Organize" spins out the need to sort, label, integrate and prioritize, and iterations of the iPod click wheel provide an example. The author relishes an oddly-shaped Japanese business card, which leads him to ponder the spirit in packages that can inspire affectionate "aichaku" (literally "love-fit) for a superbly-designed artifact.

Maeda designed simple, effective icons to represent each chapter, their size a maximum of 24 pixels to a side. As this reviewer encountered the book in December, it revealed itself to be the perfect holiday or birthday gift for a designer, a design student, or a production manager for software or electronic hardware products.



Updated 1st March 2007

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