The attribute elegant is often associated with original as well as parsimonious information representation as in “elegant theory”. In all these cases, elegance pertains to a theory’s ability to explain more with less rules and assumptions. For Instance, the Copernican theory that puts the sun at the center of the solar system is more elegant than the Ptolemaic one in which the Earth is at the center.

Mars, Earth, and Sun orbits as represented in the Copernican VS Ptolemaic systems – orbits drawn as circles and Martian year rounded to 2 times Earth’s year to create a smooth animation (By user: cleonis,wikipedia) –

Since motion can be relative, the Ptolemaic system still allows an observer to accurately map the planets’ motion and identify their positions at any time; however, it does so by introducing complicated multi-elliptical trajectories in which at some point a planet has to move backward with respect to the Earth to accomodate the innatural assumption that our planet is at the center of the universe.

Some definitions of elegance

Dignified gracefulness or restrained beauty of style; scientific precision, neatness, and simplicity (Merriam-Webster dictionary),


Graceful and stylish in appearance or manner; pleasingly ingenious and simple; neatness (Oxford Dictionary).

Given the difficulty of defining elegance, there have been attempts to define it by subtraction or to understand what is the contrary of it.

May (2012)[1]embraces the Japanese concept of Shibui in which elegance is obtained by “smart” subtraction: an elegant object is illusorily simple, i.e. it may look as very straightforward and uncomplicated, but it is characterized by hidden depth and the discovery of these hidden levels is conducive to joyful interaction.[2]

Through a poll in which more than one thousand Amazon Turks were asked to define the opposite of elegance, House found out that most subjects responded with “trashy,” “crude,” “clumsy,” “awkward,” “cumbersome,” and “uncoordinated.”[3]


The word “Elegance” originates from the Latin verb eligere that means “to choose”. The link between elegance and choice is fascinating since it indicates that elegance is an aesthetic property concerning the quality of a an arrangement and that users of elegant design can perceive this quality in terms of easier choice and smoother information processing.

Elegance as effective complexity

We define elegance in terms of how elegant design helps us to deal with complexity. More specifically we define elegance as good complexity, effective complexity. check out our post here)

[1]May, M. E. (2012). Laws of Subtraction. McGraw-Hill Publishing

[2]Browne, C. (2012). Elegance in game design. IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games4(3), 229-240.

[3]House, P. (2015), What Is Elegance in Science?The New Yorker, August 17.

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