Form follows function.
We’ve heard it often and many of us are probably aware of it’s historic connection with the Bauhaus movement of the early through mid-20th century.
One of the key perspectives of the Bauhaus movement was a rejection of the superficial ornamentation so commonly found in the arts, crafts and architecture of the 19th century. In its place emerged streamlined, minimalist design forms meant to capture the essence of an objects purpose.
But what happens when functionality becomes superficial ornamentation? By extension, form must also ultimately fail.That is exactly the dilemma facing the software industry.
Conventional wisdom states that the value of software is correlated to requirements and users. That equation is linear – the more features the more potential users, the more potential users the more value. This “total is greater than sum of its parts” perspective is pervasive in the software engineering community and even amongst many designers. However, this view is self-referential – it sees the value of software through software.
But what we’re increasingly understanding is that for users, software is merely a conduit. Their focus has always been squarely on its purpose. However, as a software solution evolves to meet as many users “requirements” as possible, it actually ends up obfuscating value to its constituents rather than increasing it. This is my point. For the end user, every additional capability beyond what serves their direct purpose is superfluous ornamentation.
In the true spirit of the Bauhaus, users are clearly seeking ways to rid themselves of this ornamentation. That message is largely lost on those responsible for creating these solutions for them.
Form following function worked for Walter Gropius but it won’t be good enough for the software industry. We need a movement that re-engages us with the concept of purpose. Purpose which has clear human dimension. Purpose whose distinctions are deemed as important as its definition. Purpose which serves to actively engage its user spurring creative applications unimagined by its designer.
When function follows clear purpose, form can follow function.