Tag Archives: laws

Law 5: Differences

Simplicity and complexity need each other.

> Excerpted from Pages 45-46 of my book, The Laws of Simplicity


Nobody wants to eat only dessert. Even a child that is allowed to eat ice cream three meals a day will eventually tire his sweet tooth. By the same token, nobody wants to have only simplicity. Without the counterpoint of complexity, we could not recognize simplicity when we see it. Our eyes and senses thrive, and sometimes recoil, whenever we experience differences.
     Acknowledging contrast helps to identify qualities that we desire–which are often subject to change. I don’t personally prefer the color pink, but I do like it as a dash of brightness in a drab sea of olive green. The pink appears bold and vibrant as compared with its dark and muted surroundings. We know how to appreciate something better when we can compare it to something else.
     Simplicity and complexity need each other. The more complexity there is in the market, the more that something simpler stands out. And because technology will only continue to grow in complexity, there is a clear economic benefit to adopting a strategy of simplicity that will help set your product apart. That said, establishing a feeling of simplicity in design requires making complexity consciously available in some explicit form. This relationship can be manifest in either the same object or experience, or in contrast with other offerings in the same category—ike the simplicity of the iPod in comparison to its more complex competitors in the MP3 player market.

Law 4: Learn

Knowledge makes everything simpler.
> Excerpted from Pages 33-34 of my book, The Laws of Simplicity


Operating a screw is deceptively simple. Just mate the grooves atop the screw’s head to the appropriate tip—slotted or Phillips—of a screwdriver. What happens next is not as simple, as you may have noted while observing a child or a woefully sheltered adult turning the screwdriver in the wrong direction.
     My children remember this rule through a mnemonic taught by my spouse, “righty tighty, lefty loosy.” Personally I use the analogy of a clock, and map the clockwise motion of the hands to the positive penetration curve of the screw. Both methods are subject to a second layer of knowledge: knowing right versus left, or knowing what direction the hands of a clock turn. Thus operating a screw is not as simple as it appears. And it’s such an apparently simple object!
     So while the screw is a simple design, you need to know which way to turn it. Knowledge makes everything simpler . This is true for any object, no matter how difficult. The problem with taking time to learn a task is that you often feel you are wasting time, a violation of the third Law of time. We are well aware of the dive-in-head-first approach—”I don’t need the instructions, let me just do it.” But in fact this method often takes longer than following the directions in the manual.

Law 3: Time

Savings in time feel like simplicity.
> Excerpted from Pages 23-24 of my book, The Laws of Simplicity


The average person spends at least an hour a day waiting in line. Add to this the uncountable seconds, minutes, weeks spent waiting for something that might have no line at all.
     Some of that waiting is subtle. We wait for water to come out of the faucet when we turn the knob. We wait for water on the stove to boil, and start to feel impatient. We wait for the seasons to change. Some of the waiting we do is less subtle, and can often be tense or annoying: waiting for a Web page to load, waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or waiting for the results of a dreaded medical test.
     No one likes to suffer the frustration of waiting. Thus all of us, consumers and companies alike, often try to find ways to beat the ticking hand of time. We go out of our way to find the quickest option or any other means to reduce our frustration. When any interaction with products or service providers happens quickly, we attribute this efficiency to the perceived simplicity of experience.
     Achieving notable efficiencies in speed are exemplified by overnight delivery services like FedEx and even the ordering process for a McDonald’s hamburger. When forced to wait, life seems unnecessarily complex. Savings in time feel like simplicity. And we are thankfully loyal when it happens, which is rare.