Form follows function. Oh really?

So we have been given the challenge to participate in a debate.

My group has to argue against “that form ever follows function, this is the law.”

So what this means is, we believe that form doesn’t always follow function. Things that serve their purpose do not just do what they are intended to, they are designed with a more aesthetic feel which goes against form follows function.

So how do people interpret form follows function? Through my research this is what I found:

There are two ways to interpret the phrase “form follows function”:

  • Descriptive: beauty results from purity of function;
  • Prescriptive: aesthetic considerations in design should be secondary to functional considerations.

Descriptive Interpretation

The descriptive interpretation favors simplicity to complexity. It states that beauty results from purity of function and not from ornamentation. This ideal derives from the belief that form follows function in nature. Is this really true?

Actually, the opposite is true. Evolution passes on genetic traits to subsequent generations without any rationale for their purpose. Each generation of a species then finds a use for the form it has inherited. Function follows form in nature.

Applying functional elements to a design is generally a more objective process than applying aesthetic elements. A functionally objective process results in designs that are timeless but may be perceived as simple and uninteresting.

Prescriptive Interpretation

The prescriptive interpretation prioritizes functionality over all other design considerations, including usability, ergonomics and aesthetics.

Aesthetic considerations in design should be secondary to functional considerations. Is this interpretation problematic? Does it lead designers to ask the wrong questions about a given design?

This interpretation would seem to lead to designers to ask what should be omitted from a design. What elements of a design do not serve a function and thus ought to be removed? Should the form of a design be determined solely by its function?

Taken to the logical conclusion, every element would ultimately have the same design. Every functional item would have one and only one design. Before an object’s form could be changed, it would need to serve a different function.

Better questions come from your criteria for success. What aspects of you design are critical to success? When time or resources is limited, what design trade-offs would least harm the design’s success? Sometimes, certain aesthetics will have to be abandoned, and sometimes certain functionality will have to be abandoned. Sometimes both aesthetics and functionality will need to be compromised.

Source –

The website Creativity Portal has a really interesting article by Bruce Price the author, artist, poet and education activist wrote an interesting article titled ‘Form, function, foolishness, why “form follows function” is fluff. His point was anti form follows function and his viewpoint ultimately was that life is a lot more complicated than form over function and we crave things a lot more interesting rather than grey borring boxes. Here are couple of quotes that are most useful for our argument.

You can’t justify your design for a building or anything else with the phrase “form follows function” unless you have a situation where something has only one function. Nothing in this universe has only one. End of story.

“Form follows function” is absurdly reductionist. It pretends that life is monolithic, simple, destined to be boring, and does one thing at a time. When we all know that life is varied, complex, entertaining, and multi-functional.

-Bruce Price


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