The Laws of Simplicity [Book Review]

It’s been a weird couple months for me mentally. I wasted a lot of time trying out a paid dating site. I’ve been personally obsessed with the idea of someday owning a rock climbing gym (I’m reading a book on starting a business). And of course, it’s summer time in Michigan, which means I have to enjoy the beautiful weather!

But we’re not here to listen to my life’s problems, right? We’re here to listen to me talk about a book. And it’s a relatively simple one….hence the title, The Laws of Simplicity.


While it says “design, technology, business, life” on the front cover, the books focuses more on the human interface for the first two sections. For example, how a button layout on a remote can be rearranged to make it look less daunting. What learning curve should a user expect before mastering a “reinvented wheel” Thus, this simple book is broken down into 10 guidelines to follow with a total page count of 100 pages…..

Yes, it was designed that way. He literally ends the book with “I promise the keep it simple.”

The following ten guidelines are as follows:

  1. Reduce – Remove the clutter, or possibly hide it from view.
  2. Organize – Place like items near each other to create sub groups for easy access.
  3. Time – Reduction in waiting time, or filling dead time, invokes simplicity.
  4. Learn – If necessary, make it intuitive and rewarding for full use of the project.
  5. Difference – Some complexity is needed to give character to simple objects.
  6. Context – The background, or unused space, helps emphasize the main content.
  7. Emotion – Personalized designs can lead to an emotional connection.
  8. Trust – The device takes responsibility while freeing the user of mental burdens.
  9. Failure – We must embrace the limitations of the previous rules (1-8).
  10. The One – “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” I’m not really sure what this one truly means, but I believe it’s the over-arching mentality about designing around simplicity as a whole.

Throughout the book, there are a few illustrations to help the audience understand some of the more visual concepts that are discussed the book. For example, the image below illustrates the evolution of buttons on a typical iPod and how they have moved to an organized, intuitive appeal with less discrete parts to complete the simplicity of the final design.


[If you want a laugh on the trackpad topic, check out The Onion’s video:]

In the end, I’m not sure that the book was truly worth reading. There was a lot of stuff that made sense, but it felt more like …… common sense. It would make a good “check list” if you are actually designing a product interface. However, I didn’t take away any large “life-altering” lessons that were worth remembering off the top of my head.


Side note:

What’s with MIT graduate/professors shamelessly advertising their Alma mater? This isn’t the first book I’ve read where this happened. The author could just say “when I was a professor……” but they don’t. They have to utilize those three letters whenever possible! Seriously, they are probably paid for this hidden advertising!

Here are some examples that I found in a couple minutes:

“….but I began my career originally as an MIT-trained engineer.” (page 38-39)

“I’ve been emailing since 1984 when I arrived at MIT as a freshmen.” (page 64)

“As an MIT undergraduate, I had managed to slip past the swimming requirement……..The return experience of learning how to swim at MIT was more successful. I admit that as a professor…..” (page 74)

“Every day some of the smartest young people in the world come to see me in my office at MIT.” (page 100)

“I used to see an older fellow at the MIT pool almost every day.” (Afterword)


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