This is part of a series looking at John Maeda’s ten Laws of Simplicity.
“The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”
This is the crux of most simplification. If something is not needed in a site’s global navigation, for example, get rid of it. There is a reason that most home pages are not entire site maps. Showing everything is not the simplest way to show an interface.
Google is an overused example. Yet, I go to it here because it’s so appropriate. When they brought the bare page with only a search box to the Web, Yahoo!’s front page was essentially a site map. Thoughtful reduction, in this case, meant removing everything not related to the aim of searching. They even auto-focused the cursor to the input box!
That’s not to say Yahoo! doesn’t try.
They used to have a drop-down box with choices for what to search: The Web, In Images, In Yellow Pages, In Products. It went away earlier this year, probably because it wasn’t really that useful. Removing it (or rather replacing it with the version shown in the multi-goal search box) was thoughtful reduction on Yahoo!’s part, even if it was a bit superfluous in the first place.
Recently, Joel Spolsky wrote about the Windows Vista shutdown menu:
The fact that you have to choose between nine different ways of turning off your computer every time just on the start menu… Can anything be done? It must be possible. iPods don’t even have an on/off switch.
By reducing, Spolsky got down to one option: shutdown. I think he went too far and made the menu too simple when he removed the restart option. As many Windows users know, that is often the best solution to a wacky computer problem. Shutting down and starting back up usually involves pushing a button on the machine itself, which sometimes means crawling under desks.
Nevertheless, Spolsky’s process shows how thoughtful reduction is a great approach to simplification. Taking it too far is part of that process, too. Maeda uses continuums (like the one pictured here) to explain the give and take of finding the balance point. You know you’ve gone too simple when you realize it needs to be a little more complex. And you know it’s too complex when you can make it simpler without losing something necessary in the process.