Seven-second review of John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity

Thrown in the garbage, after reaching the clause “Great movies, like the films directed by M. Night Shyamalan…” (p. 41).

18 responses to “Seven-second review of John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity

  1. Matt says :

    I’m with you there adam – the book (and films) suck!

  2. Gen Kanai says :

    Does that mean you don’t want any of the John Maeda-designed posters that pbaron bought and gave some to me to give away?


  3. Gabe says :

    Oh wow. I didn’t know about that. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. Michal Migurski says :

    He devotes an awful lot of yammering to the concept of simplicity. I didn’t buy it, but I spent enough time skimming it at Moe’s to know that it’s self-important hooey.

  5. nicolas says :

    Well look at what’s written on the first pages…

    My early computer art experiments led to the dynamic graphics common on websites today. You know what I’m talking about — all that stuff flying around on the computer screen while you’re trying to concentrate — that’s me. I am partially to blame for the unrelenting stream of “eye candy” littering the information landscape. I am sorry, and for a long while I have wished to do something about it.”

  6. speedbird says :

    nicolas, precisely. I was shocked at the overweening self-regard that rolled off just every page of this book (and yes, I did actually read it through to the end).

    I was shocked at the amount of self-indulgent, meandering filler; I was shocked by the patronizing admonitions that “nobody likes a potty-mouth” as justification for the persistent bowdlerization of time-honored, pungently useful phrases like “RTFM”; I was shocked at the level of insight being presented as somehow novel or interesting.

    And what’s up with all these turgid acronyms? SHE? SLIP?? It’s deafeningly tin-eared. Maeda’s become the Thomas Friedman of design.

    If I can venture an opinion as to what happened: Maeda has Become A Sensei. This is something that seems to confront a great many talents at mid-career; the tendency is not in any way exclusively East Asian, but the syndrome does seem to reach its crispest expression there. He’s entered a realm in which his prior body of achievement, and the regard it’s earned him, pre-validates just about anything he sets his hand to, and there’s nobody in a position to remind the emperor that he’s leaving the house nekkid.

    If you or I or anybody we know had submitted this flyweight thesis to MIT Press – a thesis which manages to be painfully redundant, even over the length of its 100 pages – we’d have been laughed back to the Neolithic. But because it’s the issue of a certified Master…well, it must be OK. (If I sound bitter, it’s only because I was fooled into dropping fifteen bucks on this egotistical display that could have been much better spent…on toothpaste, or perhaps on toilet paper.)

    The most egregious aspect of the Sensei Syndrome, by the way, is only partly the individual’s fault: reporters and other supplicants will turn to Sensei as a kind of Intellectual, Public, General Purpose (1), and ask for comment on something outside the domain of their expertise…which is then duly provided.

    When all of you guys are legendary in your fields – and I have no doubt that you will be – you must promise me that when somebody comes along and asks you for such a quote, you’ll err on the side of discretion. Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Senseis…

  7. Christopher Fahey says :

    My early computer art experiments led to the dynamic graphics common on websites today

    The funny thing is that the work he’s presumably talking about, by students & MIT-mates of his like Casey Reas, Golan Levin, Ben Fry, etc, (a) was fully mature before those people crossed paths with Maeda, and (b) is far more interesting than anything Maeda has done.

  8. speedbird says :

    As much as I agree with those assertions, Chris, that’s not what Maeda’s talking about in Laws. It’s more pernicious, by far: a general guide to achieving simplicity, in design and in life. (Sorry, hadn’t seen the contextualizing quote.)

  9. Eric Rodenbeck says :

    My early computer art experiments led to the dynamic graphics common on websites today

    I like ot think I have a far higher threshold for self-aggrandizement, chest-puffing and unselfconcious ambition than Adam does, and have really enjoyed Maeda’s work since I became aware of it (early 90s, Zakka books in Chinatown, those early mac microphone book experiments were new, to me, and appreciated)—but this one sentence rubbed even me so badly that I tossed the book down, and won’t pick it up again.

    I wonder if he’ll ever retract this or apologize for it, and if he does, whether it’ll become widely known. If ever a statement needed retracting, that’s it. Jesus!

  10. Dennis says :

    I guess i’ll be the only one that liked this book.

  11. speedbird says :

    Forgiveable, I suppose – just so long as you don’t also like the “films” of M. Night Shyamalan.

  12. Julian says :

    I’m usually a forgiving reader but that kind of self-importance causes such an allergic reaction that I just screw my face and wonder how a person can imagine that they will be taken seriously. But, I also live in Los Angeles, the reigning capitol of credit-takers. It’s tragic. I sent the book back to Amazon that same day, in a fit.

  13. Eric Rodenbeck says :

    Maeda presented at OFFF in Barcelona last week ( and I have to say I came away with a totally different impression of the man than I got from his book. A humble, funny, entertaining, curious man, full of life and stories and laughter at himself and wonder at the world around us. All these criticisms (and my previously-noted aversion to his credit-taking) still hold; but I think I’m going to take another look between the covers.

  14. M. Mudassir Azeemi says :

    Never read the book, but the review did save me $11.74.

    Thanks Adam for the heads-up.

    Now who the hell call the “M. Night Shyamalan” a “Director”?

    My 0.02 cents

    Mudassir Azeemi
    San Francisco Bay Area

  15. ericmeister says :

    Considering the emotional level of the movies, I think the 6th Sense and the Village are one of the best drama movies out there. If those movies haven’t touched your soul, you must be emotionally invalid.

    Thank you for the review, now I’m gonna have to buy this book.

  16. AG says :

    The trouble with April Fool’s as a Web tradition is that it interferes with the shock-followed-by-delighted-reveal sequence. I’d love to be able to say you had me…but alas, it wasn’t so. : . )

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