Law 9: Failure

Thu, Dec 14, 2006

Simplicity Rules

This is part of a series looking at John Maeda’s ten Laws of Simplicity.

“Some things can never be made simple.”

This is for the simplicity haters who insist on poking holes because simplicity does not work exactly the same in every situation. An earlier law says simple can’t exist with the complex. The law of failure says that some things can’t be simple.

Attempting to simplify a complex procedure is reasonable. It may end in failure or it could lead to a more usable product. Maeda says there is a “Return on Failure,” too. When I fail and I take the time to find out why, I learned a great lesson I can use later on. So, either I have made something simpler, or I have knowledge to help me do so in the future.

Google Maps revolutionized online mapping with its time-saving click-and-drag interface. The product was introduced in 2005, but would have ended in failure any time earlier because browser differences were so much greater.

Similarly, I worked a long time on creating Javascript sliders for BestPlaces in 2002. I made some that worked okay, but they were just too buggy cross-browser. Today, something similar is part of the Yahoo! UI Library.

In another turn for the simplicity haters, Maeda admits some failures of his book. The first four laws are filled with acronyms. The mnemonics didn’t really work for me, so I didn’t include them here.

The laws of differences, context, emotion, and trust are less logical and applicable compared to earlier laws. They are a little more touchy-feely, explaining more about the why than the how.

Maeda explains…

As the Laws progress in the book, the themes become increasingly ambiguous. In the second Law I introduce the concept of gestalt–or the ability of the mind to “fill in the blank”–which justifies my approach to allow creative interpretation. However this open explanation can be confusing if taken logically.

The final flaw Maeda mentions with his approach to simplicity is that there are too many laws. He fixes that with the final law, The One, which boils down Simplicity into a single sentence.

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    […] 9: Failure: Sometimes with only the meaningful remaining, it’s still […]

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