Is simplicity the answer? I am with John Maeda on this one.

30 Oct 2008 - 5:57pm
5 years ago
27 replies
1272 reads
Ali Naqvi
2008

I recently read John Maeda's book 'The Laws of Simplicity' and also visit
his website http://lawsofsimplicity.com/
The Laws of Simplicity is a book written in the same style Don Norman
wrote 'The Design of Future Things'.
Few days back I came across the following link
http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/simplicity_is_not_th.html wherein my Guru states
that Simplicity is NOT The answer.
My Guru states that 'I conclude that the entire argument between features
and simplicity is misguided. People might very well desire more capability
and ease of use, but do not equate this to more features or to simplicity.
What people want is usable devices, which translates into understandable
ones.'
John Maeda states in his book 'The simplest way to achieve simplicity is
through thoughtful reduction'.

I was looking at my several remote controls and VHS and DVD players...
Even though these devises had understandable buttons and features, my mind
would still regard fewer buttons as a more userfriendly and easy to use
product.
For me Maeda's statement makes sense hence I am with John on this one.

If you disagree please comment.

Comments

30 Oct 2008 - 6:23pm
Steve Baty
2009

I think it's important to make a distinction between simplicity and 'less
features'. John Maeda's statement regarding 'thoughtful reduction' should
not be translated as 'less features' or even 'less capability'. Removing
functionality and capability is one way to achieve simplicity, but it is not
the only one; the challenge of the designer is to achieve simplicity through
other means.

Steve

2008/10/31 <ali at amroha.dk>

> I recently read John Maeda's book 'The Laws of Simplicity' and also visit
> his website http://lawsofsimplicity.com/
> The Laws of Simplicity is a book written in the same style Don Norman
> wrote 'The Design of Future Things'.
> Few days back I came across the following link
> http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/simplicity_is_not_th.html wherein my Guru states
> that Simplicity is NOT The answer.
> My Guru states that 'I conclude that the entire argument between features
> and simplicity is misguided. People might very well desire more capability
> and ease of use, but do not equate this to more features or to simplicity.
> What people want is usable devices, which translates into understandable
> ones.'
> John Maeda states in his book 'The simplest way to achieve simplicity is
> through thoughtful reduction'.
>
> I was looking at my several remote controls and VHS and DVD players...
> Even though these devises had understandable buttons and features, my mind
> would still regard fewer buttons as a more userfriendly and easy to use
> product.
> For me Maeda's statement makes sense hence I am with John on this one.
>
> If you disagree please comment.
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
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292 | E: stevebaty at meld.com.au | Twitter: docbaty

Blog: http://docholdsfourth.blogspot.com
Contributor - UXMatters - www.uxmatters.com

30 Oct 2008 - 6:32pm
Jeff Howard
2004

See also:

John Maeda's Laws of Simplicity
http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=11485

Simplicity is Not Understood
http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=13717

Complexity vs Simplicity
http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=12957

Simplicity (misinformation)
http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=15775

Simplicity (again)
http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=15757

// jeff

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30 Oct 2008 - 6:32pm
Mark Schraad
2006

Guiding principles such as John's are often too simplistic (pun
unintended but acknowledged). There are nearly always compromises
with simplicity. I find that construction of a solution, followed by
removal of its elements... until it breaks - to be a pretty effective
exercise.

Mark

On Oct 30, 2008, at 3:57 PM, ali at amroha.dk wrote:

> I recently read John Maeda's book 'The Laws of Simplicity' and also
> visit
> his website http://lawsofsimplicity.com/
> The Laws of Simplicity is a book written in the same style Don Norman
> wrote 'The Design of Future Things'.
> Few days back I came across the following link
> http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/simplicity_is_not_th.html wherein my Guru
> states
> that Simplicity is NOT The answer.
> My Guru states that 'I conclude that the entire argument between
> features
> and simplicity is misguided. People might very well desire more
> capability
> and ease of use, but do not equate this to more features or to
> simplicity.
> What people want is usable devices, which translates into
> understandable
> ones.'
> John Maeda states in his book 'The simplest way to achieve
> simplicity is
> through thoughtful reduction'.
>
> I was looking at my several remote controls and VHS and DVD players...
> Even though these devises had understandable buttons and features,
> my mind
> would still regard fewer buttons as a more userfriendly and easy to
> use
> product.
> For me Maeda's statement makes sense hence I am with John on this one.
>
> If you disagree please comment.
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Reply to this thread at ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=35089
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

30 Oct 2008 - 9:20pm
DampeS8N
2008

Simplicity and Less Power do NOT go hand in hand. It all depends on
the system in question.

Currently, I'm working on a CMS for the Army. One of the things that
will make this system work is selectively removing menu items from
people who don't need them. Primarily for major sections, but also
inside pages.

An example of the first is that Journalists don't need to access the
Page Management system.

An example of the latter is: A page manager who just manages one
page, need not be bothered with the selection apparatus for selecting
between multiple pages.

So, each user will get exactly what they need and nothing more. And
the control of this is also spread out around the system, so the
manager of a news team can give a journalist on that team editing
privileges, meanwhile, an admin higher up gave that manager those
privileges.

Additionally, a lot of the simplicity of the system will be created
through the complexity of the filtering and prediction systems, along
with a robust passive and active rating system.

"No matter how wonderful your interface is, the user wants less of
it."

A system as wide-spread as the one we are re-envisioning would be
impossible to create any other way. The user would be overwhelmed
with choices they don't need to be bothered with. And the problem
with many CMSs is they bother people with those choices, or at the
least, they form a culture where having the permissions to do those
things is desired.

So simplicity is always about loss of features, it is about creating
tools that fit the task. If that means more tools, that is fine.

Imagine great software like a toolbox. It should have a hammer, a
screw driver or two, a ruler, a saw. That'll get most people over
90% of the humps they will face. If they need to patch drywall, it is
as easy as going to the local hardware store and learning how. So then
there is another tool in the box. Some people will end up with all
sorts of power tools and specialized devices. But most people are
happy with that little tool box and never need any more.

The whole point of having an OS is that you can have many little
tools to do all the big jobs, and they should be able to be used in
concert in a way that makes sense. Sometimes it works to pack the
tools together into one App... most of the time it doesn't and you
end up with MS word.

Many applications grow far beyond their scope, or at least make the
mistake of thinking that their software needs to be all bundled
together to be viable. Maybe that makes money, but being able to add
to the toolbox when you need a tool to do a job probably makes more
sense in the long run.

Will

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30 Oct 2008 - 9:30pm
Weixi Yen
2007

Disagree 100%.

SImplicity does not = less features or reduction of features....

It means a simple control for the same or possibly more features. Having
less buttons on a remote does not necessarily mean you can do less with it,
if we take that analogy.

30 Oct 2008 - 11:36pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Oct 30, 2008, at 4:32 PM, mark schraad wrote:

> Guiding principles such as John's are often too simplistic (pun
> unintended but acknowledged). There are nearly always compromises
> with simplicity. I find that construction of a solution, followed by
> removal of its elements... until it breaks - to be a pretty
> effective exercise.

No offense, but this statement sounds contrarian for the sake of being
contrarian. Maeda's Laws of Simplicity are:

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

Maeda's book is not attempting to define simplicity as a means of
measurement or as a recipe. It attempts to describe qualities about
things that we feel are simple, and explain why that is. Note that
even Maeda says some things can never be made simple in Law #9. In
that regard, Maeda's book is fairly spot on with regards to discussing
what it takes to achieve simplicity, regardless of the actual measure
you need to use to determine if you have been successful.

In that regard, it's a fairly significant book that everyone should
read, imho.

--
Andrei Herasimchuk

Principal, Involution Studios
innovating the digital world

e. andrei at involutionstudios.com
c. +1 408 306 6422

30 Oct 2008 - 9:57pm
Anonymous

I think simplicity is a way for users to handle it easily.But,I hold
the opinion that simplicity doesn't mean less features.It just let
users do what they wanna do in a simple way.

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31 Oct 2008 - 4:48am
Andy Polaine
2008

Simplicity gets confused with minimalism too often.

The simplest interface is the one you don't notice, but that doesn't
mean it can't be complex.

Best,

Andy

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Andy Polaine

Research | Writing | Strategy
Interaction Concept Design
Education Futures

Twitter: apolaine
Skype: apolaine

http://playpen.polaine.com
http://www.designersreviewofbooks.com
http://www.omnium.net.au
http://www.antirom.com

31 Oct 2008 - 5:39am
Arshad Tanveer
2008

Being "simple" is different from being "simplistic". Lets not confuse one with the other. John is talking about the former, and I am with him on that.

31 Oct 2008 - 6:11am
AJ Kock
2007

I think this paragraph might have slipped the "not"

"So simplicity is [not] always about loss of features, it is about
creating
tools that fit the task. If that means more tools, that is fine."

If it was intended to be without the "not", the comma after features
should have been a semi-colon, if my grammer is correct. If the
intention was a comma, then "not" before "always" would make more
sense?

31 Oct 2008 - 6:38am
Ali Naqvi
2008

I see alot of good responds. I myself believe that IF reducing
features can make a thing more userfriendly, then that should be done
right away. It all depends on the context. My DVD remote control has
the following buttons-
eject/switch off (same button)
standby/switch on (same button)
a clear button (dont know why its there)
subtitle
Audio
Angle
Mute
Random
programme
Display
previous
Next
Revind
Forward
Pause/step
Stop
Slow
intro
Mark
title
a-b
menu/PBC
setup
repeat
ENTER surrounded by arrow up, arrow down, arrow left and arrow right
volume up
volume down
zoom
play
1, 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0,10
GOTO
Thats 45 buttons in total. I know that people have different needs
but I bought my dvd player at a local electronic shop, and only need
the following button-
eject/switch off (same button)
standby/switch on (same button)
subtitle
Mute
previous
Next
Revind
Forward
Pause
Stop
setup (maybe dont know whether I really do need that one)
ENTER surrounded by arrow up, arrow down, arrow left and arrow right
volume up
volume down
play

Thats 19 buttons only. This means that 26 buttons could be removed. I
asked my entire family to look at the remote control and give me their
opinion.
They said that only 14 buttons 'could be used' but they only used 9
of them. They also stated that just looking at the remote control
confused them and they had to look at the remote control several
times before pressing a button in order to ensure that the wrong
button wasnt pressed.

Here a REDUCTION would have helped.

We have to keep in mind that we as interaction designers know the
difference between simplicity/complexity etc.
But the average user (my family in this case) relates simplicity with
reduction. Therefore devices that are intended to be used by 'average
people' should contain few features that can do the work. A remote
control for a dvd player, which is being sold at a local electric
shop should not have buttons and features that confuses people and
reminds them of a mainframe system at NASA.

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31 Oct 2008 - 7:01am
Dave Malouf
2005

Simple and yes even simplicity is right up there with intuitive on
words to describe the quality of something that lead to long drawn
out threads without a lot of practical gibblets in there.

Why? B/c both terms are about mental models. What is "simple" is a
personal reaction to the system one is working on. For some a CLI is
very simple and powerful at the same time. I.e. Ubiquity is great.
The problem with the word simple is that its opposite is really
complex, but we aren't in the game of removing complexity and in
fact the ways we achieve good designs are actually through really
complex methods.

I see Maeda's book as less a call to simple design ala
"minimalism" as someone pointed out, but really a call to designers
to just think more deeply about the designs they put out there. We all
have a tendency to put our egos in our designs, and this often leads
to "too much" which CAN lead to confusion. But a great designer
does tear away at their designs.

But again, I think it is a mistake to say that simple is a goal.
Whenever this comes up with my clients, I often counter them with,
"but the processes we are interfacing with are quite complex". In
my current application this has meant reducing the GUI, but adding
guidance, and at that only in certain areas. There are some tasks
whose business processes are so complex that if you are engaged in
them, then reduction would cause so much inefficiency that the
software would be getting in the way.

On the remote side of things. Yes a single button can have multiple
purposes, but as Jef Raskin (RIP) has so cleanly explained, mode
changes based on context are complex mental structures that many
users struggle with.

I think that Jef's world is not the world of 8 years from now, as
mode shifting is becoming 2nd nature to so many and is really the
great advantage of computational digital interfaces, but I do believe
for now, on a mainstream consumer device, putting too many modal
interfaces is not a great idea.

A tangential thought. In graphic design, reduction often translates
to increasing white space, instead of using graphical elements. In
IxD whe don't talk about our version of negative space very often,
if ever. How do we reduce interactions themselves for the sake of
achieving better interactions without loss of any meaning,
efficiency, etc. for the purpose of a greater aesthetic whole --
hopefully even improvement).

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31 Oct 2008 - 8:00am
Rob Tannen
2006

To address semantic differences I suggest defining "Simplicity" and
"Complexity" with respect to objective, technical aspects of the
product or interface. For example, the number of features, options,
controls, etc.

THEN, use the term "Clarity" when describing the quality of
interacting with the product or interface (ease of use, learnability,
efficiency).

Two different interfaces may be comparably complex (or simple), but
have different levels of clarity. I use the Apple iPhone and the BMW
iDrive as two interfaces with approximately equal complexity
(functional capabilities), but significant disparity in clarity. You
can think of clarity as the ease of interacting with complexity -

http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/bnp/ad0908/#/22
or
http://tinyurl.com/5af5ha

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31 Oct 2008 - 8:00am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

What Dave is getting at here is that design isn't so much about
simplicity as it is about clarity.

Simplicity is a lack of complexity. It is easy to make the simple
clear. It is difficult to bring clarity to the complex. Design isn’t
about making the complex simple—it is making the complex understandable.

Best,
Jack

On Oct 31, 2008, at 1:01 AM, David Malouf wrote:

> The problem with the word simple is that its opposite is really
> complex, but we aren't in the game of removing complexity and in
> fact the ways we achieve good designs are actually through really
> complex methods.

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

Charles Eames was asked the question,
"What are the boundaries of design?"

He answered,

"What are the boundaries of problems?"

- Charles Eames

31 Oct 2008 - 8:33am
Santiago Bustelo
2010

Simplicity is not opposed to complexity.
Is opposed to complicatedness.

--

Santiago Bustelo // icograma
Buenos Aires, Argentina

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31 Oct 2008 - 8:56am
Andy Polaine
2008

DeBono's version of Simplicity is useful here. In his book on the
subject (which, IMHO is the best one he's written) he compares
complexity to energy. You can't remove it, you can only shunt it
around to different places. Sometimes that means pushing it onto the
computer to do some complexity crunching, sometimes onto the
developers and designers who have to spend time and effort to work
things out so that they can be simpler for the end user. Sometimes the
end user gets a good dose of it, depending on the circumstances and
abilities of the end user (for example, a router than can only be set
up via the command line). Whatever you do - the complexity existing in
the system remains, it just gets moved around and hidden (sometimes).

> What Dave is getting at here is that design isn't so much about
> simplicity as it is about clarity.
>
> Simplicity is a lack of complexity. It is easy to make the simple
> clear. It is difficult to bring clarity to the complex. Design isn’t
> about making the complex simple—it is making the complex
> understandable.

Best,

Andy

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Andy Polaine

Research | Writing | Strategy
Interaction Concept Design
Education Futures

Twitter: apolaine
Skype: apolaine

http://playpen.polaine.com
http://www.designersreviewofbooks.com
http://www.omnium.net.au
http://www.antirom.com

31 Oct 2008 - 9:07am
Rob Tannen
2006

Andy - That's spot on - complexity is an objective quality of the
system. Like the example of going from a manual to an automatic
transmission - the transmission is not getting simpler (it's
actually more complicated), but because of where the complexity is
distributed, the interaction is easier for the driver.

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31 Oct 2008 - 9:33am
Dave Malouf
2005

Rob & Andy this is a key point (redistribution of complexity - does
this make us all socialists?). It is a key problem for us in dealing
with stakeholders. Biz folks see a simpler GUI, and think it should
be cheaper, but in fact is much more of an investment to do this type
of redistribution. I have found myself in the past ill-prepared for
the conversations that ensue between dev and biz as have been
working on projects of simplifying GUI interactions in the past. It
is really important for biz folks to be given visibility into the
back-end workings so they really understand how complicated it is.
(BTW, I don't get the difference between complex and complicated. If
there is every splitting hairs, that feels like one. Its like saying
to a kindergarten student, what's the difference between yellow and
maize.)

-- dave

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31 Oct 2008 - 10:05am
mtumi
2004

y. :-)

MT

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31 Oct 2008 - 10:26am
Andy Polaine
2008

> what's the difference between yellow and maize.

You can't eat yellow. ;-)

31 Oct 2008 - 10:54am
AJ Kock
2007

The hair: complex vs complicated
This might imply: you are in control vs the program/device is in
control

There are subtle differences between word usage and their meaning. You
will call something complicated if you can't manage it (which implies
that it doesn't have to be complex to be complicated). You will call
something complex if you are managing a intricate program/device which
can do/handle a lot of things.

I am starting to sound very socialist with product alienation, but it
might just be that our vocabulary differ if we feel empowered or when
we feel alienated from a product.

And thats me running off in a completely different direction again...

31 Oct 2008 - 11:07am
SemanticWill
2007

Complex and complcated are complete different thing.
Complex- the essence or nature of a thing
Complicated: the subjective experience (qualia) of a thing.

will evans
emotive architect &
hedonic designer
will at semanticfoundry.com
617.281.1281
twitter: semanticwill
aim: semanticwill
gtalk: wkevans4
skype: semanticwill
_________________________
Sent via iPhone

On Oct 31, 2008, at 11:54 AM, AJKock <ajkock at gmail.com> wrote:

> The hair: complex vs complicated
> This might imply: you are in control vs the program/device is in
> control
>
> There are subtle differences between word usage and their meaning. You
> will call something complicated if you can't manage it (which implies
> that it doesn't have to be complex to be complicated). You will call
> something complex if you are managing a intricate program/device which
> can do/handle a lot of things.
>
> I am starting to sound very socialist with product alienation, but it
> might just be that our vocabulary differ if we feel empowered or when
> we feel alienated from a product.
>
> And thats me running off in a completely different direction again...
>

31 Oct 2008 - 11:26am
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

Two memes relevant to this discussion:

1. "Clarity is better than brevity" by Jef Raskin [or simplicity - OK]

2. Tesler's law of Conservation of Complexity: "One cannot reduce the
complexity of a task. One can only shift the burden." (
http://www.asktog.com/columns/011complexity.html)

--
Oleh Kovalchuke
Interaction Design is design of time
http://www.tangospring.com/IxDtopicWhatIsInteractionDesign.htm

1 Nov 2008 - 2:03am
Weixi Yen
2007

that 2nd quote is right on oleh :)

1 Nov 2008 - 5:58am
Alethea778
2008

This topic reminds me a case I just met. Days ago I attended UPA
conference and live in a hotel nearby. The remote of TV was full of
features but lack of simplicity. To me simplicity is how to make
device easy to use, while users' need could be all satisfied.

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1 Nov 2008 - 7:53am
Esteban Barahona
2006

I concur.
simplicity is an ideal in design.
as is transparency (honesty) and consistency (not break too much
rules "just because")

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3 Nov 2008 - 7:31pm
Anonymous

Would a better term be "elegant"?
"Elegance is the attribute of being unusually effective and
simple...Some westerners associate elegance with simplicity and
consistency of design, focusing on the main or basic features of an
object, its dignified gracefulness, or restrained beauty of style."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elegance

Also, if you asked a kindergartner what's the difference between
yellow and maize, my guess is they would tell you that one is a color
and another is something you get lost in, (e.g.,maze). : )

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