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Form & Function


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I have written this post to pick up on points about form and function I have read in other posts. To some extent I have written it as an opportunity to put my point across but also to see what other people think and to see what debate can be stirred up. Hence, my argument is far from comprehensive.

I will start by saying that I think it is a fallacy to say form follows function, have a read of
I work for a company that makes retail gasoline dispensing eqiupment. When it came time to change the look of the dispenser, marketing spent several million dollars with a prestige industrial design firm. To make a long story short, in the end when it came time cost and build the design for production, most of the external plastic pieces that gave it shape, went away. It was said that, while the external plastics pieces gave the dispenser a more rounded look, they added no value and made the cost too high.

My two cents, BTW, I'm not an Engineer, just a designer...

Steve C
Guess you're a Brit judging by your classic examples. Do you think an Industrial Designer was used in these ?? These were probably done with Engineers and Designers using the If it looks good... principal.

Form is important but it can't take precedence over function.

btw Concorde wasn't a successful design because of it's limited functionality. (too few passengers, could only fly over water and couldn't fly Pacific routes).

The problem with Industrial Designers is that they are primarily concerned with the form aspect.

Can you explain how the if it looks good principal is different from the form aspect?

In the context of Form follows function not much.

In the context of Fit, form and function the term form infers more.

In this last context, form also applies to things like method of construction. EG. Going from a fabrication to a machined casting (fit and function is unaffected).
So would this mean an engineer should only care about the form as it relates to cost and ignore any differences in appearance? Isnt it worthwhile to vary material/ fabrication methods to make something more interesting etc. if it means people will actually buy it and enjoy it? *perceived value

If you look at hand tools you could probably get buy just fine with an all plastic boxy hand drill but I doubt you would find many of them in stores other than Wal Mart.

Its not always worth the effort, but it is worth consideration.

I didn't say this:

engineer should only care about the form as it relates to cost and ignore any differences in appearance.

I'm saying that form means more to an Engineer than simply shape, size and appearance and that form cannot/should not take precedence over function..

PS I've never worked on product that Wally World would be interested in selling anyway... :)
i'd have to agree, mostly anyways, with what dougr says. function is always the most important aspect of a project. if it does not fulfill the requirements, it is not worth anything. the only thing i'd add to that is that the most efficient answer may not be the best answer. like miked stated, form is generally what markets better. sometimes, giving up on a little efficiency is more benficial in the long run.
I didnt say give up function.

Function is extremely important but its not worth as much on its own. Form (design) doesnt have to mean wally world and its unfortunate that many people feel that way.

You need balance.Form that relates to function.

Anything else is decoration, and thats a whole other discussion.

Form that relates to function, to quote Mike, is an interesting way of putting it and one that I feel sums it up quite succinctly. There is a certain elegance inherent in the best designs that is a lot more than just a fancy plastic shell.

And yes, I am English but there are lots more designs that appear to adhere to this balanced approach (just flying the flag and that). With respect to Concorde, it may not have been a successful product but as a design it is a masterpiece. It is just that the design brief was fundamentally flawed.
Without function there is still form, and form does sell without function. See Hyundai for example, they hire Italian design firms for some exteriors then use their own inhouse engineering :(

There is always function no matter what - all artwork has the function of being pleasing, appealing or intriguing to look at.

Any art form - whether in the form of paintings, sculptures, collages, photographs etc - serves some function.

Hyundai sure as hell doesn't sell product that doesn't function %-(

As regards the statement form as relates to function this represents a very narrow view.

As Engineers/Designers we are also interested in form as it relates to cost, performance, safety, reliability, fit, marketability etc, etc

The point is all these other things are irrelevant if you don't have functionality - first and foremost. :)
All this reminds me of spelings rant about industial design vs engineering. I too have had to re-engineer aesthetic designs that were not manufacturable.

form follows function and a good designer/engineer should be able to put both in an elegant design.

one things for sure, you want to get the message boards lighting up just start a thread about design vs. engineering... or perhaps ME vs EE?
They probably don't too often, judgging from the expletives uttered whenever they try to do cabling! :)
Every design is a compromise, form helps the product sell but if it doesn't function properly it comes back. About the only exception to this is Windows.

Function can be dictated by some obscure factors other than the industrial designer or the bean counters.

Take the Space shuttle for example, the most advanced form of transportation currently.

The booster rockets are built a few thousand miles away from the launch sites and are transported by rail. They go through tunnels to reach their destination so their size is somewhat limited. The tunnels were built years ago to accomidate the standard trains. The standard trains were built to accomidate the rails at 4' 8.5 width.

This rail spacing was used because the trains in europe were that size and it was what was available. The rail size was used because the early trains were built by carriage makers and carriages had that wheel spacing. That spacing was used because the ruts in the dirt roads were that size and any other size shook up the carriage too much.

The roads were rutted way back in the days of the Roman empire by the charriots. The charriots were sized to accomidate the width of 2 war horses.

So net result (very convoluted) is that function of the space shuttle launch is in part dictated by a pair of horses asses.