What is an elegant solution?

There was a king whose feet were very sensitive to the rocky roads in his kingdom. To be able to walk wherever he wanted on smoother roads, the king decided he would have all the roads covered with leather. He invited the best contractors in the kingdom to bid on this huge project. One replied, “I can cover the roads with leather, but it will cost all that is in the kingdom’s treasury.” Another said, “I can do the job for half of what is in the treasury.” Finally, a young child came to the king and said, “I will do the job for free. I’ll just strap a piece of leather under each of your feet, and you’ll be walking on leather wherever you go.”

Sandals are more elegant than leather roads
Sandals are more elegant than leather roads

To me, this story shows the essence of an elegant solution. By really thinking about what is needed at the human scale, the young child was able to create a solution that met the king’s needs for a fraction of the cost and environmental impact.

Leonardo da Vinci, a prolific design engineer, said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Pablo Picasso felt that “art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Mahatma Gandhi thought we should “choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” I think we’re getting away from these words of wisdom and the lessons from the leather roads story. As a result, we have less effective design “solutions,” which do not solve, and even contribute to, our environmental and societal problems. One purpose of this site will be to highlight good examples of elegant solutions so that we all improve our ability to come up with our own.

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