Elegance as Complexity Reduction in Systems Design
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Elegance is often invoked as a characteristic of good design, but it cannot be pursued as a design objective because of the absence of actionable definitions that can be translated into design strategies and metrics. In this work, we analyze elegance in the context of systems engineering using a perspective that integrates visual art, Gestalt psychology, neuroscience, and complexity theory. In particular, we measure elegance as effective complexity and theorize that it can be achieved by a process of complexity resolution based on the adoption of eight visual heuristics. We present an empirical study in which a sample of systems engineers were asked to assess alternative representations of a same system and show that effective complexity is strongly correlated to perceived elegance and systems effectiveness. Our results are consistent with independent findings obtained in other fields including design and psychology of perception showing that good design must embed an effective level of complexity achievable through a mix of familiarity and novelty.