The Laws of Simplicity


The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

“Reduce” is all about removing functionality as the simplest way to create simplicity.

When in doubt, just remove, but be careful of what you remove.

📍 SHE framework

It helps helps make thoughtful reductions. But beware of the inevitable tension of how simple can you make it and how complex does it have to be.

  • Shrink: as technology is shrinking, i.e. becoming ‘smaller’ and yet more powerful, this approach is about designs conveying the impression of being smaller, lesser and humbler. This means that as a user your expectations of the product will still be fulfilled even though you might not think so, purely from looking at the product.
  • Hide: hide the complexity through brute-force methods. Expose only the information you want to convey — examples: a progress bar or a Swiss knife.
  • Embody: products might lose the sense of value as features go into hiding and products shrink. Thus it becomes ever more important to embed the product with a sense of the value creating the perception of quality, which can be done through marketing or product design (better materials).


Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

📍 SLIP framework

  • Sort: sort and group information
  • Label: name each group with a relevant name
  • Integrate: integrate groups that appear significantly like each other
  • Prioritize: use Pareto’s 80/20 rule

Great examples of integrations are the pattern forming (Gestalt) seen in the Bauhaus movement and also Monet’s aesthetics of the blur.


Savings in time feel like simplicity.

Reduce user’s frustration caused by time wasted. When any interaction with products or services happens quickly, we attribute this efficiency to the perceived simplicity of experience.

If time savings are not possible, it is also useful to supplement and double down on the customer experience.


Knowledge makes everything simpler.

While great art makes you wonder, great design makes things clear.

The best designers are those who marry function with form to create intuitive experiences that we understand immediately.

📍 BRAIN framework

  • Basics are the beginning
  • Repeat yourself often
  • Avoid creating desperation
  • Inspire with examples
  • Never forget to repeat yourself


Simplicity and complexity need each other.

The more complexity there is in the market or product, the more that something simpler stands out.

But beware that simplicity in design requires making complexity consciously available in some explicit form.

📍 White space: the opportunity lost by increasing the amount of white space is gained back with enhanced attention on what remains. More white space means that the less information is presented, more attention shall be paid to that which is made less available. When there is less we appreciate everything much more.

📍 Background and foreground: what lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral. Bridging the experience between background and foreground can be a great strategy to enable the foreground to stand out — i.e. enhance the taste of a meal in a white room.

Related to a common trade-off between providing people with direction versus leaving them to explore for themselves. “How directed can I stand to feel?” versus “How directionless can I afford to be?“.

Another good example is Google complex algorithm, necessary to deliver a simple search experience (the former is required in order to the latter to work).


(counterintuitively) More emotions are better than less.

SHE made some products cold and fragile, for this reason people put iPods in covers, also as a form of self-expression to create more emphatic objects.

Same as Form follows function, the feeling follows form.

Feeling > Form > Function

(carefully) Choose the right kind of more: feel, and feel for.

When emotions are considered above anything else, don’t be afraid to add more ornaments or layers of meaning.

Shintoism has a Japanese tradition at its roots for Animism, the religious belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. A good product example of this is the love for a Tamagotchi.

B&O doesn’t focus on the quality of the sound, but on the quality of leaning back to achieve relaxation as a desired state.


In simplicity we trust.

There is always an innate tension between the effort required to learn about a system on the one hand and the trust offered by the system on the other. This gets magnified with the emergence of big tech giants, it raises the debate of privacy — since we let others do the heavy lifting.

📍 Omakase: it literally translates to “I’ll leave it up to you” — this is a person worthy of absolute faith. You let him make the choices for you trusting he’ll deliver the best experience.


Some things can’t never be made simple.

There’s always an ROF (Return on Failure) when you try to simplify — which is to learn from your mistakes.

Complexity and simplicity have a symbiotic relation.


Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

  • Key 1 — AWAY: more appears like less by simply moving it far, far away i.e. SAAS.
  • Key 2 — OPEN: openness simplifies complexity i.e. Windows vs. Linux, “open source” technologies and Application Programming Interfaces (‘APIs)’
  • Key 3 — POWER: use less, gain more i.e. dependency on batteries with electronic devices. In the field of design there is the belief that with more constraints, better solutions are revealed.
First published on April 25, 2016