You may have heard this phrase before as it has become a widely popular movement and guiding principle in architecture and design for the past 100 years. Associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century it continues to be a law of design followed today. It influences everything from the building of skyscrapers to vacuum cleaners and is now being adapted to web design in the digital age.
Basically the principle of ‘form follows function’ is this:
‘The shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.’
It was coined by American architect Louis Sullivan in 1896 who attributed the concept to the core idea of 1st Century BC Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, who stated that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas and venustas (solid, useful and beautiful).
“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical…that form ever follows function. This is the law.” – Louis Sullivan
It is a concept which has had massive influence on most, if not all industries. From automotive to appliance, construction and electronics. Even credited with inspiring the famous Bauhaus school of thought and movement in the early 20th Century that decreed that an object’s design should be dominated by its function and sought an aesthetic standard based on simple forms, clean lines, rationality and functionality.
Essentially ‘form following function’ sees beauty as the result from purity of function, and that aesthetic considerations should be secondary to functional considerations.
It may seem like a rigid law, which would result in a bland multitude of similar buildings, cars and products, but this is not the case. It doesn’t suppose to limit design but rather give it meaning and purpose. Variation and diversity naturally occur due to the differences in interpretation and perspective.
In web design the literal translation of this law could be thought of as simply the gathering of requirements from the client and then determining the design based off those functional necessities. Such as providing contact information or booking an appointment. Alone this leads to over simplicity. Through an in depth assessment of the criteria and necessary aspects which will determine the designs success and by considering the usability, ergonomics and brand aesthetics we are able to come up with a site that not only works but is beautiful.