The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life

Technology has made our lives
more full, yet at the same time we've
become uncomfortablyfull.”

I watched the process whereby my daughters gleefully got their
first email accounts. It began as a tiny dropemails sent among
themselves. It grew to a slow drip as their friends joined the
flow of communication. Today it is a waterfall of messages, e-cards,
and hyperlinks that showers upon them daily.
I urge them to resist the temptation to check their email
throughout the day. As adults, I tell them, they will have ample
opportunity to swim in the ocean of information. Stay away!” I
warn, because even as an Olympic-class technologist, I find
myself barely keeping afloat. I know that I'm not alone in this
feeling of constantly drowningmany of us regularly engage
(or don't) in hundreds of email conversations a day. But I feel
somewhat responsible.
My early computer art experiments led to the dynamic
graphics common on websites today. You know what I'm talking
aboutall that stu. flying around on the computer screen
while you're trying to concentratethat's me. I am partially to
blame for the unrelenting stream ofeye candylittering the
information landscape. I am sorry, and for a long while I have
wished to do something about it.

Achieving simplicity in the digital age became a personal
mission, and a focus of my research at MIT. There, I straddle
the fields of design, technology, and business as both educator
and practitioner. Early in my ruminations I had the simple
observation that the letters “M,” “I,” and “T” — the letters by
which my university is knownoccur in natural sequence in
the word simplicity. In fact, the same can be said of the word
complexity. Given that the “T” in M-I-T stands fortechnology” —
which is the very source of much of our feeling overwhelmed
today — I felt doubly responsible that someone at MIT
should take a lead in correcting the situation.
In 2004, I started the MIT SIMPLICITY Consortium at
the Media Lab, comprised of roughly ten corporate partners
that include AARP, Lego, Toshiba, and Time. Our mission is to
define the business value of simplicity in communication,
healthcare, and play. Together we design and create prototype
systems and technologies that point to directions where simplicity-
driven products can lead to market success. By the publication
date of this book, a novel networked digital photo
playback product co-developed with Samsung will serve as an
important commercial data point to test the validity of the
Consortium's stance on simplicity.
When the blogosphere began to emerge, I responded and
created a blog about my evolving thoughts on simplicity. I set
out to find a set oflawsof simplicity and targeted sixteen
principles as my goal. Like most blogs, it has been a place where
I have shared unedited thoughts that represent my personal
opinions on a topic about which I am passionate. And although
the theme of the blog began just along the lines of design, technology, and business I discovered that the readership resonated
with the topic that underlies it all: my struggle to understand
the meaning of life as a humanist technologist.
Through my ongoing journey I've discovered how complex
a topic simplicity really is, and I don't pretend to have
solved the puzzle. Having recently spoken to an 85-year old

MIT linguistics professor who has been working on the same
problem his entire life, I am inspired to grapple with this puzzle
for many more years.