A while ago I visited a museum in The Hague, which houses a large Mondriaan collection. I bought a combination ticket for this museum and the photography museum. You see, I am a huge photography fan, so the photography museum sounded as an amazing addition to an already fantastic museum. But then I discovered Coco Chanel and forgot all about visiting the photography museum…

A little black dress

Had you asked me before, I would never have guessed that we could learn something about software development from someone like Coco Chanel. As it turns out though, there is a lot more to her than I knew.

In the early 1900s Chanel designed a simple, yet elegant black dress. Her vision was that evening wear should first and foremost be comfortable to wear. It should be functional. “Why would you put a button somewhere if it won’t be functioning as a button?

The success of this little black dress was phenomenal. Today still, each year many designers make their version of ‘The Little Black Dress’.

Design through function

I guess that the biggest take away from Coco Chanel’s dress is that design is not something that is slapped onto your product. It is not something that is separate from the function.

Actually, design largely comes from functionality. The fabric used for example should have good qualities for a dress first, such as feel nice, not wrinkle the first instant you put it on, et cetera. The way it looks is obviously very important, yet comes second.

Don’t innovate

What I learned most from this dress and the way Coco Chanel approached designing it, is perhaps best described in her own words: “One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics.”

While I am a huge fan of innovation, I like that quote. It puts extra pressure on finding the design rules that actually make your design special. A classic. And the only way to do that is to have function and design act as one.

Which leaves me with the question we ask ourselves every time we deliver a new version of one of our products: “If this were the last version we ever made, would we be satisfied?” If the answer is no, we have not done enough. If the answer is yes … well, we just might have a classic on our hands.

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