Posted by: Matthias Kaiserswerth | 24/06/2013

The Beauty of Simplicity

I must admit, I have a big weakness, I like to collect watches. So it was a great pleasure last week when the IBM Hobbyclub at the Zurich Lab organized a visit to a very special Swiss watch company, “Ochs und Junior” in Lucerne.

Beat Weinmann, co-owner of Ochs und Partner demonstrating the mechanism of the moon phase watch

Beat Weinmann, co-owner of Ochs und Partner demonstrating the mechanism of the moon phase watch to an interested group of IBMers

They have a very limited collection of watches designed by the Swiss watchmaker and inventor Ludwig Oechslin. The watches have complications such as an annual calendar or a moon phase. Contrary though to usual watches where the complications are realised with many parts, Ludwig Oechslin spends a great deal of time on the design, simplifying the mechanism until the function can be built and operated with the fewest parts possible.

His first commercial design is the MIH watch sold at the International Watch Museum in La Chaux-des-Fonds where he is the director. It has an annual calendar made of only nine extra parts beyond the basic movement.

At Ochs ind Junior, we got to see his newest designs. I was most impressed by a moon phase watch that has five extra parts, but is exact for more than 3,478 years, which appears to be a lot more precise than some of the more complicated moon phase watches.

His strive for simplification resonates well. As computer scientists we also learn that the more time we spend on the design and the architecture or an algorithm, the less we need to code and the better the resulting product can be maintained. Unfortunately many people though sit down and start coding before they’ve really worked out the simplest and most efficient way to solve the problem.

I for one find beauty in such simplicity rather than complication and thus also appreciate the simplifying design that goes into other products such as the iPad, which is the first computer my wife, a true luddite, really uses.

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Responses

  1. Isn’t there a fundamental difference between a watch and many technical products or services, with respect to damage in case of failure, “input”, etc.
    Watches have very little, quite simple inputs, and if it fails, there is no big damage.
    Software and hardware for medical products or financial institutions have very complex inputs, they have to adhere to standards which are – in many cases unnecessarily – complex, and the potential damage in case of failure is huge, including human life.

    • Andreas, you’re right of course. In fact standards – in particular when designed by committees run a danger of being overly complex and hard to implement. Case in point early on in my career the ISO’s OSI stack vs. TCP/IP was a good example on how not to do it.


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