Measuring Elegance as Effective Complexity

In this paper titled “Simple as it can be, but not simpler: Perceived elegance as effective complexity in Interface Design” and that has received a best paper award at the 2020 AMCIS conference, we propose and test a method to measure the elegance of an interface (the paper and the presentation are both accessible at this link).

A balance designed by Dieter Rams for Braun: this design is elegant because its unusual and intriguing shape does make the act of weighing something more exciting but also surprisingly simple (image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons, By w/d/h, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Our publications and presentations

Iandoli, L., Piantedosi, L., Salado, A., & Zollo, G. (2018). Elegance as complexity reduction in systems designComplexity2018.

Salado, A., Iandoli, L., & Zollo, G. (2016, July). Painting systems: from art to systems architecting. In INCOSE International Symposium (Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 773-787).

Iandoli, L., Zollo, G. (2019), Complessità del mondo e necessità dell’arte, In: Capucci, P.L and Simoni, S., Arte e complessità, Noemi edizioni

Iandoli, L., Zollo, G. (2018), The Age of Aesthetics, presentation at Aalto University Venture program

Iandoli, L., Zollo, G. (2018), Think as an artist: Creativity for the Design of effective products and service, ICSB Certificates,

The poetry of coffeemaking: the importance of Fluency in Design

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you 
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

(Elton John, Candle in the wind – on the right a 1961 portrait of Marylin Monroe by Henry Cartier Bresson)

You may have recognized from these few verses the famous song that Elton John dedicated to Marylin Monroe’s memory. Assuming you know the song, let’s do an experiment.

Battlefield Aesthetics

What is striking about Napoleon’s strategic genius is his ability to visualize troops in battle not as separate entities, but as connected nodes in a network of tensions. Tensions that push, pull, support, threaten, and protect elements connected in a network of relationships. Likewise, the quality and effectiveness of a design depends on the designer’s ability to identify this invisible network of tensions and pull the right strings to achieve the desired ending.

Napoleon crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David (1801) pic, Public Domain,

The Elegance of mathematics: a lesson by Dante Alighieri

The relationship between the expressive richness of natural language and the rigor of mathematics has been explored by poets and writers over the centuries with surprising results. Mathematics has been used by artists to define strict Boundaries within which to express their creativity as well as to build bold metaphors. Among the many, we remember Borges, who in numerous works is seduced by the vertigo of mathematical thought. An example is the Aleph point of infinite dimensions: “An Aleph is one of the points of space that contain all the points […] the place where they are found without confusion, all the places of the earth, seen from all angles”.

Domenico di Michelino – Dante and the three worlds, 1465

Think as an Artist: the Art of Empathy in new product Design

This two-day workshop organised with the support of Alan Advantage is dedicated to managers, entrepreneurs, designers, and visual communication professionals who want to develop an empathic approach to the development of new products and content. Empathy is introduced through the analysis of how users deal with complexity. We use Art and Design masterpieces to illustrate how aesthetic reasoning helps to handle complexity. Finally we provide participants with methods on how to achieve good complexity through labs and site visits in which we apply lessons from painting, photography, and storytelling to interface design.

Defining elegance

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) –

Lost in translation: the discovery of the Amazon River

by Giuseppe Zollo

An literal journey into complexity began on December 26, 1541. On that day Francisco de Orellana left Gonzalo Pizarro’s expedition stuck in the Peruvian forest and with sixty men descended the Coca River in search of food. He won’t ever come back. Following the course of Coca and Napo rivers, Orellana reached an immense expanse of water. It was the Amazon River, which the expedition will follow for eight months up to the river’s mouth on improvised boats.

Course: The art of simplicity

This course offers an alternative and multidisciplinary approach to the analysis of complex systems that is complementary to traditional systems engineering and product design. The pedagogic approach blends theories from cognitive science, aesthetics and art, behavioral economics, and design thinking with experiential learning based on the analysis of visual art masterpieces through museum visits, visual arts labs, and writing workshops.

Full immersion format for graduate students and professionals in the fields of Engineering, Architecture and Management Science

Creativity labs, workshops and site visits

Previous editions delivered at Aalto University (Finland), Stevens Institute of Technology (USA), St John’s University (USA), University of Naples Federico II (Italy)