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Here at, we read. We read a lot! And every once in a while we stumble on a useful book that just resonates. Such is the case with The Laws of Simplicity, by John Maeda (The MIT Press). In this 176-page effort, as one would expect from the title, Maeda explores the need for reducing complexity in all types of products and services. He encodes his lessons learned into a set of “laws” for achieving simplicity.

You don’t have to have psychic powers to guess that Maeda’s first law of simplicity is Reduce. Maeda says “the simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. When in doubt, just remove. But be careful of what you remove.”

But when adding a feature also means adding value, Maeda says those features need to be accessible in “a sensible hierarchy so users aren’t distracted by features and functions they don’t need”. He calls this second law Organize, which Maeda says “makes a system of many appear fewer”.

There are other laws—and lessons— and Maeda makes the case for each with examples and illustrations.

The most interesting (and thought provoking) law is number nine, Failure, which asks us to admit that “some things can never be made simple.” Ironic, in a book about simplicity? Perhaps. But Maeda’s right on target. For instance, in the technical publications space moving from traditional desktop publishing and narrative writing to structured XML authoring and content management can be challenging. While many blame the complexity of the authoring tools and content management systems (some software vendors certainly could benefit from adopting Maeda’s first law), perhaps moving to the new paradigm is not something that can be made as simple as some would like. No one is arguing that the tools, processes, and approaches to these newer methods of managing content cannot be improved (they can), but if Maeda’s ninth law has merit in the content management arena. it’s something we should all just admit. Like it or not, some efforts are not simple.

Interested in learning more? Buy the book. Visit The Laws of Simplicity companion website. And, check out Maeda’s interview (podcast) with National Public Radio.