design inspiration mashup no.1

In the past two weeks I read The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda and listened to two episodes of Design Matters with Debbie Millman.

Here are some highlights, insights, etc. Let the mashup begin!

1. The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda

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100 pages cover to cover, in The Laws of Simplicity John Maeda provides 10 laws and three keys, all of which are applicable to design, business, and life.It can be a fast read, but if you treat each law as a contemplative exercise, there is much to gain on personal and practical levels.About 2/3 of the way through The Laws, after providing multiple acronyms and memory-aides, Maeda pokes fun at his own tendency to acronym-ize. But when a co-worker who knows I am studying design asked me to teach him something about design in five minutes, I immediately had an answer:


In extrapolating on his first law, REDUCE, Maeda gives us "SHE," an acronym for three tools to aid in "thoughtful reduction."

Shrink. Hide. Embody.

Often the best way to learn something, or to test your knowledge, is to attempt to teach it to someone else. Here was my opportunity.

"When something small does something well, people love it," I told my co-worker. "And when something small doesn't perform, or it breaks, people are more apt to forgive it, because it is small."He nodded, understanding. "And obviously, making things smaller can make them easier to use and less obtrusive."I moved on. "Hiding complexity makes things appear easier to use, even if all of the operations behind the curtain remain incredibly complex. Do you remember logging on to a computer that ran on MS-DOS? Typing information into a command line?"My co-worker nodded."All of the same things are happening - lines of code, commands, etc - behind the interface you see on your laptop or your smartphone. But by hiding the command line behind a graphic interface, the whole act of using a computer feels much simpler. The same thing goes for drop down menus, which hide a majority of their contents until you decide to display them.""What about embody?"The two of us are hiking guides for a luxury health and wellness retreat. We were employed by a perfect example of one of two kinds of embodiment."Think about what we do here. We take a group of people on a hike. But other places do that too, like Meetup.com. In fact, meetup.com does almost exactly the same thing. It gets people together to go for a hike. The difference is that our hikes are embodied in a luxury experience. Once we are on that trail, everything is pretty much the same as it would be for someone who got on the trail via Meetup.com, but because our company has embodied the act of hiking in a luxury experience - a four-star hotel, a spa, celebrated chef, fresh, organic, raw ingredients and a tailored diet - people come here and pay thousands of dollars to do something that they could do for free.""That is embodiment via craftsmanship. The other way to do it is by messaging," I continued."We see this all the time with branding and advertising. You see it at CVS when a bottle of Advil is sitting next to the CVS brand Ibuprofen but the Advil costs three dollars more. Same materials, different marketing. So Advil embodies their product through messaging."S.H.E. is a perfect simplification tool and it was simple enough to explain in five-minutes. The Laws of Simplicity abounds with insight and techniques that apply to every area of life, business, and creativity. If you live in Los Angeles and want a copy, there is one going back into the LAPL's circulation this afternoon ;)

2. Design Matters: Steven Pinker

I consider myself exceptionally lucky that the first episode of Design Matters I had the pleasure to listen to featured Steven Pinker. While I have heard the name, I was never was intrigued enough to seek out his work. Of course, as I become more and more of a design thinker, and as I begin to bear the curse / gift of seeing design in everything, I decided to wet my whistle.

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On a side note, in preparing this post, I visited Designmattersmedia.com, the homepage of the podcast, and it is beautifully designed (as one would expect). The background is a constantly changing color gradient and the line up of the conversationalists' photos is a great feature.First up, Steven Pinker. I won't recount the entirety of the conversation, just quotations that struck me and my own thoughts that followed.On the origin of emojis:When discussing the timeless claim that the younger generation is destroying language, Steven recalls the following:

"But, regarding emojis, I was very amused to read a pretty highfalutin style manual from the 1950's from an oxford professor and he was saying, 'You know its really a shame we don't have a punctuation character that could convey that a sentence was intended ironically or in jest and ought not to be taken seriously...' and I thought, this guy is calling for the invention of the smiley face."

On his new book, Enlightenment Now, and the goal of the Enlightenment period.

If we increase our knowledge, if we understand how the world works, if we set the goal of making people better off: healthier, more knowledgeable, longer-lived [sic], bit by bit we can succeed. That was the Enlightenment dream, you can dismiss it as starry-eyed and naive, and you know 'it'll never work,' but what the graphs tell us is, it did work. It is working, if we continue the project of trying to improve human welfare through human knowledge.

I think there is a case that UX design is both a product of the Enlightenment and an application of Enlightenment thinking to the technologies that are shaping our world.

3. Design Matters: Edwin Schlossberg

Next up, Edwin Schlossberg. Here is an individual I have never heard of, but who gave me an invaluable reminder during his conversation on the podcast. If you want to know more about an original and pioneer of interaction design, listen to Edwin and Debbie's episode of Design Matters. For now, here are two nuggets.When asking about one of Schlossberg's early works of art, Millman quotes Schlossberg on his goals for the piece in question. "I hope they see the words, and then I hope they see themselves," and asks him what he meant by the quote.

Seeing words as a place in which you were actually assembling ideas is more interesting than seeing it as if its something passively that you look at and just think about either the association of words or just their form...I think the derivation of that has drifted away. I think people aren't so interested in the act of reading as a compositional thing rather than just an assemblage of thoughts.

On gaming and community

Gaming allows people to imagine they're not themselves and so they're playing as their role in something and really learning something different than they would maybe let themselves do if they thought it was something of theirs. So I think that's one of the things about interdependency and social experience which is you're always imagining who you're talking to and you're imagining what they're thinking about it and it gets people to realize that an idea is only valuable if it's between people rather than in their head.

This bit struck me and it should strike all creatives. Remember all the ideas that you've come up with and didn't share. Maybe because you weren't sure if they were worth the time. Well, go on and share them. Otherwise, we are just letting them go fallow in our own heads. And you never know, maybe the idea itself isn't the greatest in the world, but it triggers something in someone else, and voila, that vulnerable interdependence gives way to a magnificent expression of the human creative spirit!

✌️Last updated 
November 13, 2021