The Power Of Elegance

Coco Chanel stated that simplicity is the key to any kind of true elegance.

But I dare to differ.

Very often simplicity is not elegant at all.

If we over-simplify our world, it becomes mono-dimensional, monochrome, lifeless and boring. If we simplify our world-view to an extent where the good cowboys wear white hats, and the bad cowboys black hats, we miss the multi-color richness of experience the real world has to offer.

Instead of trying to manage the complexities we face through black-and-white reductionism, we need to learn to manage our complex reality not by simply cutting through it. In order to achieve truly satisfying, elegant results, we need to embrace our complex reality by gaining a deep, complete and essential understanding of it.

Once we have achieved a state of total immersion in a topic, we will find that elegant solutions suddenly present themselves in the most unexpected moments, like a flash of lightning, when inspiration strikes. The resulting solutions may seem simple at first sight – but don’t be deceived!

This type of simplicity is rich, complex and deeply satisfying. It provides a profound sense of significance. It addresses the real root causes of a situation, and it usually has a broad-ranging effect.

In the fields of information technology, mathematics and engineering, elegant solutions provide a surprisingly simple method, which is normally not obvious at first sight, to produce a highly effective result, often solving multiple problems at once - even problems which may not be inter-related! Although these solutions may seem simple, their quality has nothing to do with reductionism, austerity, or blinkered ways of thinking.

Maybe Coco Chanel’s little black dress can teach us a lesson about true elegance. This little black piece of magic is designed to reveal just enough, and hide just enough of the lady wearing it, in order to highlight her beauty, whilst at the same time concealing possible challenges in the most complimentary way.

Ideally, the little black dress should not be noticed at all by the beholder.

If it does its job well, it should simply act as a platform on which the lady can shine!


Elegance combines simplicity with complexity to create beauty!

The Swiss army knife may provide us with a very practical, tangible illustration of such elegance. The simple, straightforward surface design of this tool is actually misleading, for although it is called a knife, it actually provides multi-purpose functionality.

The basic version normally includes:

a couple of knives

a pair of scissors

a cork-screw

a can-opener

a screwdriver

And so on…

Nowadays, many Swiss army knives include cool gadgets like an altimeter, a USB-stick, etc.

However, trying to create too much added value may have a detrimental effect. Some designers have included so many different gadgets and functionalities in to their version of the Swiss army knife, that the result is a heavy, cumbersome, impractical tool, lacking the essential elegance of the original design.


Too much of a good thing is the enemy of elegance

In the process of innovation, true elegance must strike a fine balance between complexity and simplicity to create optimal value. The key to ensuring real perceived value when designing new tools, methods, models, concepts and solutions, is to strike the ideal balance between simplicity of design and the usefulness of multifunctional complexity.

If you need to read a user’s manual before you can utilize a tool, product, solution or process, it is probably not truly elegant.

According to my research and experience, true elegance requires no formal explanation.

It speaks for itself.

In the last ten years we have seen many disruptive concepts, technologies and products launched into the world markets, which have changed the way in which we live, work, and create value.

The IPhone, with its deceptively simple, elegant design and its complex, rich sub-structure completely revolutionized the world of mobile phones and hand-held devices.

The Google search engine, with its clean, uncluttered design and meaningful search results pretty much blew away most of the potential competitors.

The list of great examples for new, successful, disruptive solutions, products and technologies which make use of the key concepts of elegance is growing quickly.

But even the more traditional Swiss watchmakers can teach us valuable lessons about elegance. A really good watch should have a surface structure which is easy to understand, that allows for intuitive navigation. But below the surface, the inner works of a truly great watch will include a grand complication, representing the most complex achievements of haute horlogerie.

You and I don’t need to understand the inner works of a watch to be able to use it.

If it is elegantly designed, it will require virtually no explanation.

To quote the January 2007 edition of Architecture& Design:


«Elegance allows for complexity to coincide with a relative reduction of complication by integrating multiple elements into a coherent, comprehensive, continuous and complete system, which can easily be understood.»


The real power and secret of elegance stems from its ability to provide a means of articulating complexity in a way that enables easy comprehension and intuitive navigation.