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Monday, May 24, 2004

Maeda and me


Captured with my digital camera this morning: A simple moment with MIT Media Lab professor John Maeda at the National Building Museum.

John directs the Physical Language Workshop at the lab in addition to heading up the Information Organized Research Consortium in which AARP is a sponsor/member. He was in town today to chat with us on how we could adapt some of his technology platforms to enhance the online experience of a select group of AARP members. We're still in the early stages of planning, but I'm excited about helping to drive this joint initiative through our Web Strategy and Operations group.


Making technology usable, understandable, and enjoyable has been a theme throughout John's extensive career as a designer and teacher. He took new action on some of his ideas earlier this year to form an experimental research program called simply, simplicity. You'll notice that the letters M-I-T are even embedded in the logo treatment. Many point out that MIT is also in complexity, and what better an institution than this high temple of technology to come to the realization that we need a return to the basics.

The effort is still in its infancy, but John has turned the mantra up a notch with a recent essay [reg. req.] by Jessie Scanlon in the New York Times. John has assembled an impressive group of research fellows to do some initial thinking. Some of their first principles of simplicity:

1. Heed cultural patterns. The iPod, for instance, succeeded not just because of its sleek form, but because, in conjunction with iTunes, it solved so many of the problems of buying and storing music.

2. Be transparent. People like to have a mental model of how things work.

3. Edit. Simplicity hinges as much on cutting nonessential features as on adding helpful ones, the Newton MessagePad and the Palm Pilot being prime examples.

4. Prototype. Push beyond proof-of-technology demos and build prototypes that people can interact with.

Scanlon has started an outline for a book on simplicity, but in addition to upcoming press, some of the fellowship's ideas and examples will start to appear to the general public in a couple upcoming books. John's book Creative Code will arrive this summer, and Bill Moggridge of IDEO is finishing up a book manuscript entitled "Designing Interactions" for MIT Press to be released in the fall of 2005.

The simplicity braintrust reconvenes at the Media Lab early this July, and I'll likely be there to listen in. Stay tuned; stay simple.

11:15 PM in Information Design, MIT Media Lab, Washington, D.C. | Permalink


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