If you’ve followed the evolution of my thinking through the series of books I’ve written, you know that elegance–defined as the ability to achieve the maximum effect with minimum means, and characterized by the presence of both uncommon simplicity and surprising impact–is my root cause.
Elegant solutions are identifiable when some degree of four qualities are present: symmetry, seduction, subtraction, and sustainability. Elegance often manifests itself in something apparently incomplete and imperfect in design, in turn requiring the user or viewer to engage with the idea fully in order to complete the offer, idea, or rendering.
It’s a tough and elusive concept to get. Still, though it’s called different things in different cultures, elegance is a universal quest in nearly every domain of human activity. Which is why I’m fascinated by it. It’s also why elegant solutions seem to be so few and far between. But if you know where to look and what to look for, you’d be surprised at just how many there really are. I’m happy to report that their number is increasing.
I’m constantly asked for examples of what I consider to be elegant solutions. I ran a quick experiment several months ago with a Tumblr image-only site to see if the anecdotal interest in elegant examples translated into actual behavior, and it did. So I’m starting a regular, numbered series devoted to reporting on elegant solutions.
Welcome to the inaugural issue.
I believe the most compelling aspect of these ideas is not the end result, but rather the the thought that went into them, which is what I will attempt to highlight.
Me.We Concept Car
Toyota has been working with French architect Jean-Marie Massaud for a few years. The two teamed to create an “anti-crisis” concept car, pictured here, dubbed Me.We.
The mission, in Toyota’s words, was to create a vehicle that “addresses contemporary human, economic and environmental challenges, bringing [Massaud’s] independent vision and experience from outside the motor industry.”
They wanted a concept that accomplished three aims: 1. be adaptable to a wide variety of lifestyles as well as display high quality and innovation; 2. move away from the auto industry tradition of excess everything; 3. challenge design convention and offer a more compelling experience.
The name ME.WE expresses concern for both the individual as well as that of society. The car is at once a pick-up, convertible, off-roader and small city car with a minimal eco-footprint. It has a tubular aluminum structure, sporting customizable, lightweight, durable, fully-recyclable polypropylene panels. Bamboo is used in the construction of the floor and for the cabin’s horizontal surfaces, chosen both for being a renewable resource and aesthetically pleasing.
ME.WE is electric-powered, using in-wheel motors allowing both 2 and 4-wheel drive, with batteries located under the floor. With none of the traditional packaging restraints associated with conventional power trains, the entire interior is devoted to the vehicle’s occupants and cargo. Luggage can be carried on the roof beneath a fold-out, weatherproof neoprene cover. Rear luggage space can be extended to become a flat-bad. The rear bench seat is mounted on floor rails and can be folded and stored beneath the front seat when not in use. It can also be removed altogether and even used for ad-hoc picnic seating.
A single simple screen above the steering wheel displays vehicle speed, battery charge, journey information and navigation instructions, delivered via a smartphone. The phone itself is mounted below the screen so the driver can personalize the cabin environment with music and other apps, as well as controlling on-board temperature.
The heating and air conditioning are delivered by a low-energy air pump and electric seat heaters to minimize power consumption. And to achieve a cabriolet-like open air feel, all the windows can be opened, even the windshield.
The result is an “anti-excess” vehicle. In Toyota’s words: “The goal was do more and create better while using less. By reducing the pool of resources and constraints, it was possible to increase capability, quality and pleasure. In short, the Toyota ME.WE represents the transition from the culture of ‘more’ to the culture of ‘better.'”
You can view several videos here.
When it comes to recreation, cycling is my first passion. It probably comes from growing up on a three-mile long coral atoll in the South Pacific (Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, Micronesia), where everyday transportation was exclusively bicycle. When I’m not traveling, I ride daily, both road and mountain bike.
So…I love the attention designers give to bikes. It’s a never ending target. But I’ve never seen anything quite like the Sandwichbike, a flat-packed, DIY wood bike with nary a single weld. Designed by Dutch designer Basten Leigh, the name comes from the fact that the bike frame is composed of two wooden panels sandwiched together, made to be self-assembled under the premise that if you can make a sandwich, you can make this bike: Everything you need is in the box including the tools, and there are fewer than 50 parts.
According to Sandwichbikes.com: “To enable you to build it yourself, Basten Leijh had to rethink every aspect of the classic velocipede. He came up with a concept that is unlike anything out there. Instead of a welded frame, it is engineered as a ‘sandwich’ of two weather coated frames of layered plywood. Bonded together by ‘smart cylinders’, the frames and components become a rock-solid piece of technology that is both durable and extremely attractive.”
Here’s the bike in action.
Here’s how you assemble it.
The Sandwichbike goes for 800 Euros, available October. Your can pre-order one here.
Momento Wall Clock
The Momento Wall Clock, created by the talented Hong Kong designer Andrea Ponti, is one of the most elegant I’ve seen.
“Time is the dimension in which we conceive and measure the passing of events,” he writes. “According to Immanuel Kant it is ‘a form of human sensitivity.” Time is the perception of motion and it is constantly changing in relation to space. From this thought arises Momento, it is an object that changes the image of itself based on the variation of time. The hands amends the weight and proportions of the object creating, every single moment, a form in continuous transformation.”
Powerskin for Apple iPhone5
I own and use this product when I travel, since roaming eats a smartphone’s battery life. It’s different and better in almost every way from other power cases I’ve tried: it’s one piece versus two, soft versus hard, silicone versus plastic. It’s t
It’s as if the designers had read my mind to figure out my dissatisfaction with other offerings, and built something exclusively for me. That’s the mark of good, empathic design: built for you, sold to everyone.he thinnest power case I’ve seen, barely over a quarter inch thick.
The Powerskin extends your battery life by several hours…at times it has doubled my battery life, giving me an entire extra day. You can turn it on or off, which is something most other battery cases don’t let you do. You can use your earphones as well–something other battery cases prevent–because Powerskin includes an earphone extender in the box.
You can get one for $80 here.
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