Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Simplicity Rules

John Maeda is the author of "The Laws of Simplicity" and founder of the Simplicity Consortium at MIT which  develops new methods and technologies in healthcare, play and communication built on these principles.

He works at the intersection of art and computing and is reponsible for much of the graphics "eye candy" that we find on the Internet today.



He wrote the book as a Simplicity 101 to help people in business, technology, design and life create simpler and better design solutions.

Here's a workshop based on his 10 laws you can use to design/develop/conceive of an artefact, product, method, procedure, service or way of seeing or being in the world.

Start with a design challenge: a product that is in need to thoughtful redesign, and follow these steps:

DESIGN CHALLENGE - What is the product, service, method or procedure that you would like to redesign? Describe it in great detail, its' features, what it does, how it does it, how it gives the customer some greater power, capability or usefulness, and what is its intent.
USER FEEDBACK - What have we learned from the customer about their experience of the product, service, method or procedure? What do they like about it? How do they feel it could be improved?
REDUCE - What can we do to thoughtfully reduce e.g. fewer buttons, shrink in size and complexity, hide some functions, embody the hidden value?
ORGANIZE - What goes with what, so the many appear fewer, or can be incorporated into a single or simpler controls, display, switch, suite of functions etc? Sort into categories, and simplify. Squint to see the forest for the trees.
TIME - How can we shrink time, or make the wait shorter, seem shorter or more tolerable? How do you inform progress?
LEARN - What metaphor could we employ so the artefact makes sense to the user by connecting to their lives, feels like they have seen it before, make a connection to a new capability, then work out how to do it themeslves? e.g. desktop giving access to folders and programs.
DIFFERENCES - In what other ways can we make the complex simple and use the emergent simplicity to enable more complexity?
CONTEXT - What's the appropriate balance between attention/focus and expansion/connection? How can it be more attuned/connected to the context?
EMOTION - What must be done to give the artefact a "life force" of its' own? Animate it, bring it alive, to which there can be an emotional connection/attachment? And for it's "being" be clearer and more meaningful, to achieve a greater return on emotion?
TRUST - In what ways can your design "think" for the user so they develop trust in and appreciation for what happens, so there is no need for an undone? But also that can be undone?
FAILURE - If, after "subtracting the obvious" and "adding the meaningful", it did not work out, what can you learn from the exeprience?
THE ONE - If all else has failed, how can you "move it far far AWAY" so more seems less, OR make it OPEN, so the power of the many outweighs the power of the few OR use less to gain more POWER, for example an in-built power source.

Maeda, J. (2006). The Laws of Simplicity. MIT Press: Cambridge

Saturday, November 6, 2010

In memory of Benoit Mandelbrot

The king of "roughness" departed the physical world on the 14th October, 2010, but our memory of him lives on in the name of a spectacular example of self-similarity at every scale, the Mandelbrot set.

The Mandelbrot set which honors his work (which can be expressed as z² + c, where Z is a complex number e.g. the square root of -1) exhibits patterns of dazzling complexity at ever greater magnifications, all the way to infinity.


Benoit Mandelbroit discovered order in the apparent messiness of life. He shows how a cauliflower is both simple and complex all at the same time. When you cut off one of the floreats, you find it is composed of many more smaller floreats, that are essentially the same design. And if you cut off one of those floreats, and look closer, you discover many smaller floreats, again similar to the larger floreat.

Self-similarity or fractal order is a field of mathematics which Mandelbrot helped develop and popularize. Simple rules describe natural features or artefacts of great complexity. The ruggedness of mountains. The branching of arteries. The growth of neurons. The shapes of rivers. The leaves of ferns.



He discovered that self-similarity, where simple patterns are repeated infinitely,  can explain complex data sets such as stock prices and non-smooth objects such as clouds and coastlines. His work grew out of a field of mathematics - Julia sets - which was once regarded a mere curiosity with little practical use.

So what if you were able to apply fractals to psychology and sociology.

Here is a workshop to think "fractally" to discover the simple rules in the complex, and develop the complex from the simple:

1. Brainstorm a list of all the artefacts, natural features, processes, etc. you can think of that are self-similar at every scale, e.g. like cauliflower floreats
2. Choose one artefact, natural feature, process or method from your list and describe how it is fractal, self-similar at every scale and how the generation of smaller or larger versions follow the same simple rules.
3. Fractals in discourse - Choose a problem to be solved. Write down three solutions. Discuss with a pair, and combine your two sets of ideas, into a single set of three ideas. Meet with two other people and combine your six ideas into three. Repeat the entire group has generated just three fantastic ideas.
4. Create a new fractal decision/learning game. Create a new set of discussion rules similar to the Fractals in discourse
5. Fractal leadership. Craft a set of three rules for how you will expect to be led by others to maximise your support and engagement.
6. Connecting with others. Craft a set of 2-5 simple rules for successfully engaging with others so they feel a close connection. Describe how the rule applies in relation to a wife/husband/partner, sister/brother, friend/enemy, family group, work team, community, organization, nation.
7. Finding the fractals in new relationships. Look back over your life and think about the people, groups, organizations and communities you know or have known or joined with. What are the rules for maintaining long term relationships? What are the rules for losing connections?
8. New concepts. You have been given the task of creating a wisdom age ecology of new products and services. Looking back over the Hunter-Gatherer, Agricultural, Industrial, Information and Knowledge eras, what are the simple rules for generating whole/integrated ecologies of products/services/jobs at each scale?