Laws of Simplicity (synthesis)

This is a repost of the book, this time in English as most of you requested. To learn more about the The Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) visit its’ Amazon website.

Get Simple

In a complex and confusing world, businesses that develop high quality, easy-to-use products are on the fast track for success and big profits. Consider the popularity of the Apple iPod. This innovative, elegant product does not do as much as other digital music players and it’s much more expensive. Yet people across the globe are paying Apple’s premium prices. Similarly, Google, the highly successful Internet search engine, offers the most basic interface but delivers power.

Simplicity sends a powerful sales message. Companies and organizations are eliminating complexity from their internal and external operations. Follow these 10 laws to simplify and succeed.

1st Law: “Reduce”

Reduce functionality. A typical television remote can do everything but drive your TV to the supermarket. However, hardly anyone uses all those buttons. Most of the remote’s functionality is unnecessary. Instead, offer consumers the features they need, but no more than that. Follow the “SHE” process:

  • Shrink – Make powerful equipment less intimidating and more appealing by downsizing it. Small, light gadgets are chic and desirable.
  • Hide – Computers offer users enormous power that they can deploy in a million different ways. But computers took off only when programmers and designers figured out how to present a blank and comforting opening screen with a few pleasing icons. (Never discount the value of eye candy.) Most functions stay hidden until you need them.
  • Embody – Of course, if you shrink your product and hide its functions, consumers may think it’s cheaply made and doesn’t do much. Counteract this by using good materials, for example. Bang & Olufsen remotes are extra slim – and heavy for their size. Their satisfying weight in the palm sends a message of quality. Smart marketing can also do the trick: If you wear Nikes like Michael Jordan, maybe some of his star quality will rub off on you.

2nd Law: “Organize”

Users become dismayed when they have too many choices. Cut back on the number of buttons people have to push or menus they have to pull down. Simplify your products by getting organized. Ask yourself these three questions:

1. “What to hide?”

2. “Where to put it?”

3. “What goes with what?”

Use the “SLIP” process to answer the last question, what goes with what:

  • Sort” – List every piece of data on a post-it note, one item per note. Display the notes on a table top, and sort and re-sort them until you find the best groupings.
  • Label” – Give each group a group name.
  • Integrate” – Combine categories when possible: The fewer the better.
  • Prioritize” – Create a special group for the most important data.

The human brain looks for patterns. Great designers squint when they look at something. It enables them to see the big picture, the pattern and not the details. They actually “see more by seeing less.”

3rd Law: “Time”

Saving your customers’ time gives them the impression of simplicity. Consumers like McDonald’s because they don’t have to wait in line for a long time to order. The iPod Shuffle saves users’ time by providing only a single LED on its display. They push a button and on comes a random selection of music from their libraries.

Make users feel efficient by removing all the time displays from your products. Without a clock, they don’t know exactly how much time they are spending. However, they want to feel they’re making progress and won’t have to wait forever. Thus, such as, instead of a clock, your computer shows you a progress bar when a program is downloading. The bar reduces your anxiety because you can see that something is happening and you won’t have to wait all day.

Use design elements that suggest speed and motion, like 1950s cars, which had cool fins that looked like airplane wings. Influenced by airplane flight, designer Raymond Loewy created the classic streamlined Coke bottle in the 1930s.

The acronym SHE also applies to time. Shrink time constraints. If you can’t, Hide them. Or Embody them: Make them useful or interesting. For example, Whole Foods gives customers free cookies as they stand in long lines before Thanksgiving.

4th Law: “Learn”

“Knowledge makes everything simpler.” You may think you’ll be able to assemble your new gas grill intuitively, but you’ll probably get the job done faster if you follow the instructions in the manual.

Convey information, follow the steps in the acronym “BRAIN”:

  • “Basics are the beginning” – Put yourself in the position of someone encountering your product for the first time. Better yet, put together a focus group of people who actually are encountering your product for the first time. Or teach. You’ll quickly figure out what the basics are when you have to explain something to someone new.
  • “Repeat yourself often” – You may feel that this makes you sound like a broken record, but it works. George W. Bush campaigned by repeating the same phrases about terrorism over and over, and as president 10% of his speech before the invasion of Iraq consisted of the words “terror,” “weapons of mass destruction” and “Iraq.”
  • “Avoid creating desperation” – Although you may want to impress customers with all the bells and whistles on your new product, this only makes them anxious. Present new information gradually, step by step.
  • “Inspire with examples” – You learn faster if your motivation comes from within, instead of  from the outside. Looking at the lives and work of designers and others you admire can strengthen your confidence and sense of direction.
  • “Never forget to repeat yourself” – This point is so important that the acronym itself is an example of it.

Create a sense of “instant familiarity” with your product by “marrying form with function.” Customers should be able to relate what they find in the new product to their previous experience, translate it to the new context and surprise themselves by suddenly being able to do something new.

5th Law: “Differences”

“Simplicity and complexity need each other.” If nothing was complex, you wouldn’t recognize simplicity when you saw it. The contrast makes it visible. The ideal metaphor for the balance between simplicity and complexity is a wave, with troughs and peaks. Simple products are great, but too much simplicity can become boring.

6th Law: “Context”

Are you a laser beam or a light bulb? Focus is important, but so is illuminating the whole scene. Sometimes things that seem peripheral are as important as those in the center. If a page consists only of text, it looks dense, unapproachable, almost unreadable. Add white space and it becomes open and inviting. Although the white space is totally peripheral to the page’s content, it’s what makes the content accessible.

Good designers understand that “nothing is an important something.” A blank space invites your mind to fill it. A blank page invites scribbles. A quiet room makes every sound stand out.

7th Law: “Emotion”

Modernist design is unadorned, white, black, silver or chrome. The Apple iPod exemplifies this modernist ideal. However, no one would ever call the iPod warm and cuddly. Interestingly, people often need to feel emotional attachments to the things that they purchase. Thus, many iPod users buy colorful, decorative accessories. The iPod’s air of chic and attractive “subzero coolness” does not touch users emotionally.

Don’t forget people’s need for emotional warmth. Efficiency is important, but it is not the only value. A doctor who makes an appointment of only 10 minutes to inform a patient that she has cancer may be efficient but such a doctor is hardly a true healer.

8th Law: “Trust”

Danish stereo manufacturer Bang & Olufsen is a consumer electronics leader. The company expresses this in its style, quality and pricing. Because B&O products are so well-made and easy to use, their customers can lean back and enjoy them. They know they can count on the products, just as swimmers know they can count on the water to hold them up.
Some consumers trust services such as Amazon so much that they’re willing to give up privacy in exchange for ease of use. Amazon collects information on the books you’ve ordered and suggests other similar ones you might like, which you can order instantly.

9th Law: “Failure”

What if you can’t simplify your product or service? Accept reality. Don’t waste time trying to achieve the impossible. Instead, embrace the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and failures. Your perspective shifts and widens when you fail. Leverage your failures to achieve future successes.

10th Law: “The One”

If you don’t want to remember nine principles of simplicity, remember only this one: Increase simplicity by “subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” Nothing on an iPod is inessential. Everything on it has a purpose.

In addition to the 10 laws of simplicity above, apply these three additional principles:

  • Away: To make more seem like less, add distance. For example, Google stores information on remote computers so you don’t need to have it all on your home machine. Put the work far away and the result local.
  • Open: Being open is “high risk, high reward.” Open-source software such as Linux is similar to the proprietary Microsoft Windows. Some people think it’s even better. Linux works because many people can add to it. Of course, openness has its pitfalls: You can lose your money, your reputation and your exclusive intellectual property. But often, the game is worth the candle.
  • Power: All electronic devices need power, and all power comes from somewhere. Thus, complete simplicity is never fully achievable. Nevertheless, engineers can make devices that use power more efficiently and consumers can conserve.

Laws of Simplicity, Pause and Take a Breath

Although complexity is supposed to enrich people’s lives, it often impoverishes them. For example, in the past people would meet to settle their differences. Now they hire lawyers. Find simplicity in your own life. If the projector won’t show your PowerPoint slides, tell the audience about your ideas. If your iPod stops working, hum your favorite song.

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