img_0941Every woman has an essential wardrobe item.
Mine has to be a little black dress. When I’m in doubt what to wear for work or for dinner, I often choose a little black dress. Because it simply works.

When I researched the concept of little black dress, I found a fascinating lesson on what it takes to design for simplicity.

A little black dress was originally designed by Coco Chanel in 1926. She observed that women had to go through a painful process of decorating themselves to meet the social norms of being a sophisticated woman. They had to wear layers of dresses, tight corsets, ornaments and heavy hats with feather or even with actual fruits on them!

Coco Chanel’s observation of the oppressive fashion in the late 19th century gave her a bold design concept – defining the new elegance. She believed looking elegant didn’t require a complicated and painful process. A little black dress was designed to eliminate the unnecessary pains that associated with female finery. It was designed to make women comfortable while looking elegant.

What a little black dress teaches us the process of simplicity. In today’s term, Coco Chanel was indeed a user-centric designer.

Her design process started with empathy towards the women. She designed it for ‘the users’ and for their simpler life, rather than to express her own fantasy as a designer.

We are living in the world of ‘overload’; the overload of information, functions and choices. Simplicity provides significant business benefits and competitive advantage. The first step to design for simplicity is to recognize the complexity and pain for the users and to have empathy towards the users, just as Coco Chanel did for women with heavy hats and dragging dresses.


Published at, an online magazine that aims to demystify creativity.