IMD IPD mind meld

Monday, October 16, 2006

Does Form function follow form, or form follow function, or neither?

Well I understand the theory of why function follows the form. For example in terms of an engine it looks as it does because of the materials it has been made from and because of it’s job that it has to do.

I also understand why the form follows the function. For example the humble screwdriver can be simplified to a simple form but it looks as it does for purely aesthetic form first and then function secondly as it is sort of standard.

But I was arguing (on Friday) the fact that the aesthetic of a product can be the function of the product. In simpler terms it’s the product’s job to look good, bad, or simply how it does look. The example given by Gus was house lighting. Every house light does the job but the fact that it looks like the way it does is so that it differentiates to every other product on the market. Therefore is it Function follows form? No definitely not. Is it Form follows function? I don’t think because the form (how it looks) does not affect the function of the product in anyway.

I think that the aesthetic of a product IS the function of the product. Do you agree…disagree? Tell me what you think, comments appreciated.


Blogger Jonathan said...

You're on to something here. The confusion comes in the way you differentiate between the thing giving the light (the bulb) and the thing diffusing the light (the shade). With the bulb, it's not just a case of form following function as it's also the technology dictating certain aspects - what is it that makes a filament glow, for example? What happens if you reduce the size of the bulb? How different can you make a bulb before it stops being useful? (Because bulb fittings are pretty universal).
Bulbs are also 'commodity items' which means there's little point in making them look different as it's price that gets people to buy them, not design (see the design of their packaging too - little time wasted on fancy design except maybe to signify a higher price/quality).

Shades could also be termed a commodity item but the spectrum goes all the way up to luxury - the same with lampstands. At the commodity end of the scale they tend to look the same, while at the luxury end of the scale they don't.
However, what's interesting is that there's no real reason why commodity lamps and shades need to look plain, it's basic semiotics. They look plain to make people see them as commodity items that are cheap and functional.

What you've identified is actually an aspect of consumer culture - we decorate our homes, our bodies, our workspace to send signals to others, consciously or otherwise. therefore yes, if the function is to say 'I'm wealthy' or 'I'm settled' or 'I'm creative' then the decorative form is certainly following the function, but it's the communication function, not the actual function of the object. To use Marxist terminology, 'exchange value' usurps 'use value' - we're exchanging our cash for meaning, not use (in the old sense of the word).

I talk about this in chapter two of my book which the library should be getting soon, or for a fuller account, see John Storey's book 'Cultural Consumption and Everyday Life'.

Good post - follow this up!

1:22 PM  
Blogger jackie said...

i think you've got a good point here, and i understand what jonathan is saying that objects are designed to give off a statement. i'll think about this furter and let u know more but at the moment i'll contemplate on a good argument

7:58 PM  
Blogger chris p said...

i did a fair bit on this for my design jornal as i feel many designers forget about the function of the product. for example i got a new phone in the summer, if anyone knows it its the motorolla L7 imode. and it looks very nice, very sleek and modern, however the fact it was a phone was kind of forgoten about i feel, the keypad it metal and gives very little feeling and the buttons are tiny so its very hard to use. i think design should always come after function unless its function is too look good. the example of the house light its main function is too look good however you dont want to block out too much light because thats inefficent and with all the saving energy campaings going around. so i guess what im trying to say is both must go hand in hand, you must bare both in mind to design a nice looking functional object, i dont think with one is more important than the other.

11:31 AM  
Blogger chris p said...

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11:31 AM  
Blogger blessed not stressed said...

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12:50 AM  
Anonymous Annita said...

In my opinion, "form follows function" and "function follows form" are both valid. The former, however, always holds true. When developing a new product it is absolutely necessary to carefully consider the function and ensure that the function can be fulfilled i.e. "form follows function".

When an existing product has to be improved then "function can follow form". The development of TV screens is a good example of this. Over the years screens have been constantly changed and nowadays you can even hang them on the wall like a picture!

11:03 PM  
Blogger DonLobania said...

Thank You for thew comments made. Here are my responses to what has been said:

Jonathan- I hope to get your book soon in order to see what you have said as a way to carry this on further. I can also see your point of product innovation (or evolution)changing the performance and aesthetic of the product constantly hence both function and form are progressing.

Jackie- I'll be here to see what you think about the issue at hand.

Chris P- I see your arguement and your logic into thinking that both statements are true. But you also seem to suggest that the third view (neither- as the aesthetic of the product is a function) is also adopted....maybe the research needs to change to include the third point maybe called evolution where the aesthetics of the product changes into a function.

1:27 PM  
Blogger DonLobania said...

Blessed not stressed-
In the first paragraphy you have made a fundamental error. Product design or design of any kind is not done/made for money (money is a by product). It is done as a way to BETTER ourselves or make our tasks easier for us. This is why everyone is a designer. Take from the early stoneage man. He used a stick in order to catch his prey. This then showing that design is more functional than aesthetic. But the reason why my course is called INNOVATIVE product design is because we innovate how to make this technology better so that we can take full advantage of the technology without any waste. Back to the example of the stoneage man. It is my job as a designer to see how could we make this stick better as a tool for killing...make a sharp point. Although this is simplistic terms eventually there will come a point where you can't do much with a stick as a way to kill (functionally. We now have the luxury of changing the product to suit how we want it to look. Our brain has developed preferences in terms of fashions and designs. It is my job as a designer to find ways to:
- Create a new technology (function)
- To try and use the technology in the most efficient way possible
- To try and make it appealing to look at
- To try and make it so that it uses the least amount of resources possible.

You can see from the above that function comes twice hence the main aspect of design is function. But society and the fact that innovation has exhausted itself has meant that the aestheic of a product has come to a stage where it has become a function of design.

There are also many inaccuracies in your comment all which have long explinations like this one. So keep an eye on this page in order to be educated in the way we have. Thanx

1:53 PM  
Blogger DonLobania said...


Good that you follow the concept of the two theories:

"form follows function"
"function follows form"

But point of this post is to see your view on whether:

"The aesthetic of a product can be the function of the product"

2:00 PM  
Blogger blessed not stressed said...

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10:37 PM  
Blogger blessed not stressed said...

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10:40 PM  
Blogger blessed not stressed said...

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10:59 PM  
Blogger blessed not stressed said...

well, i took off the 1st post... you can't say i didn't warn u before about going off on a tangent ;) (uni seems more stressful at 3:00 in the morning!)

just tell me if i miss the whole point... again :) ...
the main point of debate was:
whether the aesthetic of a product can be the function of a product?
hmm...can the look of a product be the function of a product? could the function of a product be its look? (just trying to rephrase)

...the sole function ...nope, i can't see anything as being purely aesthetic. can aesthetic function?

again, just rambling on here. whats your definition of 'aesthetic'?

11:27 PM  
Blogger DonLobania said...

The aesthetic of a product is how the products look.

To put the question into simpler english. Can how the product looks be the job of the product i.e. the product uses the same technology but it is updated aesthetically as that's what make people buy again?

Does this help? Blessed not i can't view your profile. updaye it and give me a shout. I have other posts tooo. Check them out and post comments.....your comments are appreciated.


5:46 PM  

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