Thursday, April 03, 2008

Simplicity, Sanity, Satisfaction in Technology

"Finally we are learning that simplicity equals sanity." This is the first sentence on the inside book cover of The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda. His biography describes him as "...a graphic artist, visual artist, computer scientist..." He founded the "Simplicity Consortium" at the MIT Media lab (Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)

This slim thin book offers complex thought simplified into the ten laws of the book's title. The author employs the techniques of his talents, informed by his personal family experience observing his young daughter's behaviors, to explain the laws he perceives.

The book was recommended to me last fall by an administrator at a company in the tech world, so I promptly ordered it and even sent a copy to another blogger with whom I shared some similar interests at the time. I never heard her reaction, and I never found time myself to read the book until some four months or so later. Only now am I finally writing about it here.

In this day of technological change where everything happens at a speed almost before it's actually happened, and ideas are soon outdated, surely the thoughts here aren't passe'. I have to recognize I'm sometimes a bit slower, occasionally still embracing some thoughts others have moved beyond, but I try to be aware of new ideas, or old ideas modified, presented from a new perspective. I still think, the thoughts here can't be that outdated. Simplicity is still important! Isn't it?

Maeda shares some of his current thoughts at his "Laws of Simplicity" blog.

More recently at MIT's "Technology Review" in Maeda's 3/31/08 blog post he references the typewriter. Remember the typewriter? I still have my Royal Portable from 50's college days though I must admit I haven't used it for some years. (I keep thinking if the power ever goes out for a really really long time, I can keep writing.) Maeda makes an interesting prediction on this blog for technologies future. He noted that "...every letter typed made an imperfect and unique imprint.." then explains why that might be just what we'll be seeking in our future.

In a Feb. post on one of his blogs he reports he is in the process of transitioning from MIT. I hope his emphasis on simplicity has been internalized in the educational process for future computer scientists and technology designers. Perhaps some of them will create tech equipment that incorporates features more user friendly for an aging population, or at least they'll seek out information to inform their designs.

I wonder what systems technology creators and designers have set up and utilize to solicit input from users, especially from the aging population? This is, after all, and aging society and our views, needs, desires deserve consideration. Those young techs will eventually age, too, and I think they might be glad they created products more amenable for their use then.

I wonder what features computer users, especially elder bloggers, would like to see modified, added or eliminated? What about laptops? Other technology, cell phones?

I'll be satisfied if some suggestions and feature applications are incorporated in new technology.


  1. "...simplicity equals sanity..."

    When I read that in your opening sentence, my mind flashed to "Simplify, simplify" being proclaimed and practiced at Walden. I have always believed that HDT had it right, so Maeda's book of "Laws" sounds quite appealing. I'll be looking for it.

    Technology has become so complex that we are a culture of tech haves and have-nots. That gap is quickly widening and will likely lead to class or caste wars if something is not done to bridge the gap soon. What is needed is a simplification, or dumbing-down, of the application or implementation of technology, not of the technology itself. Make gadgets, concepts, and aids easier to use, but make them to do more. That simplification of use is one of the necessary keys to our survival and advancement.

    Perhaps I have drifted far off the mainstream of your thoughts and Maeda's book, but then, everything is related...

  2. Winston: Yes, "everything is related." I think you've summed up quite well the issues we face and what is needed. You can never go too far afield on this blog. I sometimes go far afield within my own posts.

  3. Joared: Re your comment on my site, feel free to expose me any way you want (except frontally, of course). Thanks for the offer.