Elegance in creative ideas

Working in a creative industry we often talk about how we should judge ideas. In “Made to Stick” Chip and Dan Heath came up with a great framework for understanding which ideas are most likely to be memorable. They identified 6 criteria :

• Simple — find the core of any idea
• Unexpected — grab people’s attention by surprising them
• Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
• Credible — give an idea believability
• Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
• Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative

I think this is a pretty damm good list. And I often think I should use it more in reviews and when discussing the merits of one idea over another.

But I think there is one crucial thing that the best ideas have that is missing from this list. And that is elegance.

Of course I don’t mean elegance like a Roland Mouret dress is elegant. I mean elegant like Mathematics can be elegant as described by Bertrand Russell means elegant in The Study of Mathematics:

“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.”

Elegance can take other forms too.

Hogarth developed the notion of the line of beauty in art. The elegant Ogee s- shape that enlived art and drew the attention of the viewer….

….The golden ratio has long been admired in Geometry and architecture as fundamental form of elegance….

When we look at conceptual ideas we are looking for something similar. An elegance that is instantly appealing, that you want to revisit again and again and share with others. The sort of elegant idea that when you stumble upon one a sense of calm fear falls upon you.

Calm because your gut tells you intuitively it is fresh, exciting and has a simple beauty.

But accompanied by a fear that it is an idea without precedent and that maybe others won’t see the idea’s elegance the way you do.

By now you are thinking, come off it Will, we are trying to advertise insurance, or motor oil or beer. Elegance has nothing to do with it.

Well obviously I am not talking about the content of the idea but it’s innate structure. And advertising idea for a humble a Lager Beer, has one of the most elegant structures. Stella Artois’ Reassuringly Expensive.

It is a beautifully simple and economical phrase, the idea is immediate and accessible, it has a levity and wit it says so little but tells you so much. It is an idea that is born out of a truth.

“‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know“
Ode to a Grecian Urn. John Keats.

It’s an elegant idea and I can’t wait to find the next one……


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