Kanso: A Blueprint for Better Gear Design

Wouldn’t it be great to find better gear that allows us to exist in concert with, and not because of that gear?

"Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means." – Dr. Koichi Kawana

"A key tenet of the Zen aesthetic is kanso or simplicity. In the kanso concept beauty, grace, and visual elegance are achieved by elimination and omission." – Garr Reynolds, in Presentation Zen, in the context of contrasting the effectiveness of presentation styles from Gates and Jobs.

And there’s always the cliched quote from St. Exupery that manufacturers who think they make light gear love to put on their websites:

"La perfection est atteinte non quand il ne reste rien à ajouter, mais quand il ne reste rien à enlever. (You know you’ve achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.)"

When I designed the Cocoon Pullover, I wanted to bring the lightest possible synthetic insulated long sleeve top to market. I almost did it, but the MontBell Thermawrap inched it out. What the Cocoon does do, however, is provide a better warmth-to-weight ratio than anything else available in its class. How’d that happen?

It’s easy. Ditch the fluff. The Cocoon Pullover is simpler than any pullover garment on the market: it minimizes notions, in particular, and reduces material weight dramatically without sacrificing fit.

A new Cocoon top (no, not the hooded jacket, but that’s coming too) will hit the market in Spring of ’06. It’s not going to replace the pullover, which will remain in the line. Rather, the new product will appeal to the decidely un-mass-market nature of truly ultralight gear at the very fringe of the movement and provide a design that is so simple, so obvious, and so-not-to-be-found-in-your-local-retail-store that its six ounce weight will decidedly – and decisively – shatter the expectations of the precious few that will be the first to figure out the concept.

I’d rather not see my gear become bloated with time, but achieve the effervescent Kanso that puts the burden of responsibility for a product’s performance on the user, and not the designer.