Coffee House Readings #16: Simple as that

For my first Coffee House Reading, I wanted to share a book with you that has taught me something different than any other book I’ve read so far: The Laws of Simplicity in Design, Technology, Business and Life by John Maeda. I’ve chosen this particular book, because I usually don’t simplify things. But in an effort to simplify my life, I needed some guidance and this kind of guidance was provided by John Maeda and his ten Laws of Simplicity. Also I would like to share a coffee house with you that is very dear to me and really embodies simplicity for me.

simplicity at its best

simple and beautiful

In his book, the Master of Simplicity shares with us ten laws that we can apply to basically anything, to make things more simple for ourselves. So if you fall into the category of “I first have to clean my desk before I can start my paper” then you should read on. This book will not only reassure you that your desk-cleaning is not procrastination, but a much needed step. It will teach you new ways to simplify your life, your business, your technology and your mind.

Law 1: Reduce

When it comes to reduction, Maeda offers you a formula on how to reach the perfect amount of reduction. Ask yourself: How simple can it be? vs. How complex does it have to be?

“The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

Law 2: Organize

There are different approaches on how to deal with cluttered space. Maeda explains this law with the metaphor of a house, but I would like to reuse my desk metaphor. So, in order to make my desk look organized, I could: Buy a bigger desk (only I’d need a bigger room, apartment, etc…), I could put everything I don’t know what to do with in the famous “whatever-drawer” or I could actually organize all of my existing things in a systematic fashion. I know that doesn’t sound like an epiphany to many people, but I think this is easier said than done.

Law 3: Time

Maeda suggests that saving time feels like simplicity. Because we are forced to wait for so many different things each day like traffic lights, check-out queues or public transport, he points out that we cannot reduce our waiting time to zero, but we can try to make the time waiting as comfortable as possible. So, if you’re reading this article while waiting for the bus, a person or your coffee, you already know how the game is played. But if you feel like you are running out of time constantly, you may consider a lifestyle change.

Law 4: Learn

Learning how something works is saving you time in the future. To all of you, who are the “learning by doing” kind of person, I can relate. But sometimes, I wish I had just read the instructions beforehand, don’t you?

Law 5: Differences

“Simplicity and complexity need each other”. Just take a look at Law 1. (In an effort to save you time, because I think the ying-yangesque relationship between simplicity and complexity has already been explained.)

Law 6: Context

“I was once advised by my teacher Nicholas Negroponte to become a light bulb instead of a laser beam, at an age and time in my career when I was all focus. His point was that you can either brighten a single point with laser precision, or else use the same light to illuminate everything around you. Striving for excellence usually entails the sacrifice of everything in the background for the sake of attending to the all-important foreground. I took Negroponte’s challenge as a greater goal of finding the meaning of everything around, instead of just what I directly faced.“ John Maeda

Law 7: Emotion

“More emotions are better than less.”

This seems a bit odd, coming from the Master of Simplicity’s mouth. But as we all are still people, with emotions, maybe pure simplicity might not be enough for us and we need an emotional touch in design and, of course, in life.

Law 8: Trust

This Law touches a well-known controversy in technology. On the one hand, the more your system knows about you, the more you can trust it to exercise your will (e.g. not having to fill out passwords for your e-mail account), but also, the more it can control you. As this discussion is worth an entire article in itself, I can only advise you to rethink the way you trust technology.

Law 9: Failure

Sometimes failure is inevitable. Sometimes we have to accept that there is no simplified solution for a problem.

Law 10: The One

“Ten laws (10: one, zero), remove none (0: zero), and you’re left with one (10: one). When in doubt, turn to the tenth Law: the one. It’s simpler that way.“

If you want to know more about John Maeda‘s way of simplicity, check out his TED Talk.

The best Viennese Coffee House to read this book in

The best coffee house to read this book in is definitely Café Nest.
Mainly because this coffee house has the perfect mixture of simplicity and complexity. The owners have outdone themselves with the interior, which is absolutely beautiful, subtle, and yet, so thoughtful. The atmosphere is cozy and a perfect place to read, work or declutter your mind. Also if you are a regular like myself, you will save time by not even having to place an order, because your coffee will just magically appear on your table. Also the coffee is one of the best in town. The menu is kept simple, but appealing to every lifestyle, with everything made freshly on site. I also recommend to try the cocktails. If you want to simplify your life, just spend it at Café Nest.


Picture credits: Lisa Hirsch, Café Nest

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About Julia Unteregger

Julia is a writer and a mental health professional. In her free time she likes to hike, even though she fears heights. She also drinks a lot of coffee and plays an excessive amount of solitaire.

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