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I was gonna post this book suggestion but I felt it deserved a thread and maybe some discussion. The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda is a book I picked up a couple years ago in the art section at Barnes and Noble. I had my doubts but it was cheap and very light, only one hundred pages. Turns out it was a great choice. John has a site for it here Apparently he is the pres of RISD now, so I feel safe taking his advice as an authority on design.
I would love to just hand the book out but I know that's illegal but there is no laws that say I can't give some excerpts or quotes and give my interpretation of the chapters. I still encourage any of you to buy this book. You could probably find it less than $10 on amazon if you tried.
In the preface there is a brief anecdote then John details how to apply his laws. They can stand alone or be used together. The laws are laid out in groups of three. Each group relates to a "level" of simplicity from basic to deep. These groups could also be inferred as practical, meaningful and philosophical. In other words they lead from physical simplicity to metaphysical simplicity, at least in some sense. There are also three keys for "achieving simplicity in the technology domain." But I believe they can be applied to composition or design.
Without further adieu:
I'll be posting excerpts and anecdotes from the book in order over the next couple weeks.Ten Laws1) Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
2) Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
3) Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.
4) Learn: Knowledge makes everything simpler.
5) Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other.
6) Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
7) Emotion: More emotions are better than less.
8) Trust: In simplicity we trust.
9) Failure: Some things can never be made simple.
10) The One: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.
Three Keys1) Away: More appears like less by simply moving it far, far away.
2) Open: Openness simplifies complexity.
3) Power: Use less, gain more.
Starting with the first law, Reduce, we can make a system simpler by following three principles. Shrink, Hide, Embody or 'SHE.'
When something small does something incredible, it impresses us far greater than something big doing something great. This is because of the unassuming size obviously. Complexity on a smaller scale will seem simpler and be more impressive than the same complexity on a large scale. Making an composition or item you're designing smaller will lower the consumer's expectations of the object. So you can potentially use that to your advantage when you surprise the viewer by packing power, high-functionality, or visual impact into a smaller form.
Hiding is another way to make something simpler. Most cell phones employ this method by hiding buttons when they're not in use. Software user interfaces are well-known examples of hide too. Layered menus hide many features behind a streamlined interface. When features suddenly appear from cleverly hidden places, it's a magical thing. It's neat.Originally Posted by John Maeda
The problem with making things smaller or hiding features is that the item might appear to be less than it really is. That was obviously the goal of simplicity but it can be a negative thing. So in this case it's important to Embody whatever you're creating with a sense of value or quality. You can spend more time and use better materials to embody something with value. You can place emphasis on it's role in a composition or make it the the thing that communicates your message to consumers. Imagine some alien piece of technology in a story or game. You've designed it to appear as a simple metallic sphere. Why care? Why is this in the story? Because you've embodied it with the importance of being a weapon against the enemy. Or it's the sole device that will save millions of lives. Embody is more of a "marketing" thing than an actual part of the design. It's how you present your item and the value it has. Though your design may have to have features that communicate the object's value. Using the alien sphere again, it may have some important symbol on it or it might have a spectacular animation when activated that shows it's working. Or anything really that says "hey, even though this is an unassuming object, it has great value."