Maeda’s First Law of Simplicity: Reduce

I’ve been following John Maeda’s work for years. He’s slowed down on the blogging since he became the Prez of Rhode Island School of Design, but his thinking on the laws of simplicity remain solid. His first law of simplicity is Reduce, for which he says, “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

I’ve got a bluetooth device that has just three buttons. But depending on how long you press them, and in what context, I can pair up the device, turn it on, turn it off, raise the volume, lower the volume, stop an audio track, pause audio, skip ahead one audio track, skip back one audio track, redial a number, answer a call, and end a call. Twelve functions with three buttons. Not bad. Someone clearly spent some time on thoughtful reduction.

At my job we put on an annual conference. For years we’ve bent over backwards to provide attendees the most granular options for registration, which has made creating online registration forms a bit of a nightmare. This year we’re cleaning it up a bit. For one track in particular, we’ve eliminated basically every option, and simply narrowed it down to a single price. Register and get everything you need, or don’t come. That’s going to polarize some attendees, for sure. What remains to be seen is whether the quality of attendees, and by extension the quality of the conference, will change due to the simplification of pricing.

Reduce is a killer concept for me. Super easy to forget, and way too easy to ignore. Scope creep in particular is a monster that I feel like I’m always fighting. But if I can remember to attend to the “thoughtful reduction,” and remain willing to spend the time working through the tradeoffs, Reduce often pays dividends.

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