simplicity in higher ed…

One of the books I recently worked my way through was John Maeda’s “The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life,” hoping that it would not only shed some light on how to make the work of higher education simpler and more effectively meaningful, but also inform some of my love for good design and technology.  I love minimal design, and while Maeda does touch on this, he touches mostly on how to make processes simpler, make technology more responsive with less action, and more.

Most of my .gifs are action packed, but a simple .gif can be just as powerful

Later on in his book, Maeda touches on the aspect of “Trust” when it comes to simplicity in design.  Invoking the fact that technology is making processes simpler by the day because we have put trust into our Gmail’s ability to suggest the correct additional contacts after we type in one name, or we put trust in our phone’s auto-correct system, because maybe our thumbs aren’t the most agile.

As I was puzzling this post out in my head, I told friends that I was about to compare higher ed to the amazing documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”  I’m getting to that.


On page 76, Maeda invokes, as part of his chapter on Trust, the concept of omakase, which can roughly translate to “I leave it up to you,” where you are leaving your meal up to the sushi chef, who is a master of their craft.  They are able to read your disposition, gauge your reactions to a certain piece, and alter their menu to deliver the best possible series of sushi to you for your meal.

This part of the chapter, and thinking on the documentary on Jiro, got me thinking about what simplicity, and particularly trust can bring to higher education and student affairs.  Are we trusted to be masters of a craft, or do students trust us to give them the best possible information at all times?  Are we good enough that students and other folks around the university can say “I leave it up to you?”  Is that what we should be striving for?

Is there something to this in how we advise/connect/collaborate?  Obviously, there is no one-size fits all philosophy to communication with each student or staff or faculty, and what works with your student government president certainly won’t work the same with your programming board president.  Additionally, in my working with graduate students when it comes to alcohol at their events, once I get to know them, our conversation shifts, and the alcohol approval process is simpler, because trust is formed.  Processes are made simpler by trust.  And our field relies so much on trust.


Getting back to our boy Jiro, just as he preps his fish for weeks, getting them to the right texture and flavor, I’m expected to be prepared for upcoming meetings, and there is weeks and months of preparation for a program, because the experience should be just as enjoyable for the audience.  In my job, I serve as a consultant to over 460 organizations on event policy, regulations, and other processes.  Just like he reads his customers, sees how they pick up their sushi, how long they chew, and then adjusts the experience to best suit the individual tastes of each, I hope that I can achieve that ability to effectively read and serve the students I work for and with.  It’s a lofty and pie-in-the-sky goal, but I think it’s a good one.  I think nothing but good experience for all involved can come from it.


One thought on “simplicity in higher ed…

  1. Really enjoyed this! I think that we should be having more conversations about trust. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who works more effectively in an environment where I’m trusted and given some autonomy to take care of business. I try to work with my students to help them balance trust in me/the institution carefully with their own responsibility for processes and procedures.

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