Slogging through our functional specs and making those crucial user experience decisions, often cutting out features or functions that seemed crucial but now seem to clutter the interface, is made just a bit easier by keeping one word in mind – Sprezzatura.

Although our family has Italian roots, I must admit that I learned about ‘Sprezzatura’ from an Indian friend! Sprezzatura is what grace and elegance are all about – it defines the Apple approach to everything.

According to Wikipedia, Sprezzatura is an Italian word originating from Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”

According to a class at Williams (complete coincidence that this happens to be where our father went to university!), the most important aspect of sprezzatura is its two-layered nature: it involves a conscious effort which is disguised by a concealing act. Things which require effort are to be performed casually. Obvious effort is the antithesis of grace.

It seems that this word was created to describe Steve Jobs in all his dimensions. From the very beginning, he understood (and has often quoted) Leonardo da Vinci’s phrase “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” In fact, he used this in one of his earliest brochures in 1977:

Apple II brochure

Apple II brochure

Jobs: If you read the Apple’s first brochure, the headline was ‘Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.’ What we meant by that was that when you first attack a problem it seems really simple because you don’t understand it. Then when you start to really understand it, you come up with these very complicated solutions because it’s really hairy. Most people stop there. But a few people keep burning the midnight oil and finally understand the underlying principles of the problem and come up with an elegantly simple solution for it. But very few people go the distance to get there.

That quote can be found in many places, but a blog post at The Rat Race not only begins with this quote, but is also very interesting in and of itself. . If you’re interested in further history of Apple ads, see Web Designer Depot’s great review (thanks to TUAW for pointing me there).

It takes an enormous amount of work (or ‘thought’) to make something look easy. You will find this phrase in every book of quotes, in several different forms and coming out of the mouths of industrialists, designers, scientists and authors/poets alike.

The best compliment someone can give our apps is ‘It looks so simple, but does so much’!!

Anybody else have some favorite phrases you use to describe your goals or work style?

PS – Sprezzatura is also an Italian History Chick in DC!