Form Equals Function

In the world of creators of interfaces, in the world of creators of products, in the world of creators of anything that ever has to be used by another human, one of the most important principles ever coined is ‘form follows function’. ‘Form follows function’ is a principle which states that the shape and design of an object should be based upon or designed towards it’s intended function or purpose.

A few days ago I looked around and a thought crossed my mind; what if form doesn’t have to follow function? What if form is actually functional to itself? If we take a look at the baby of easy functionality in the 3rd millennium, the iPod. The success of the iPod was partly because it looked so damn sexy, and partly about the ease of use of the product. On the one hand it became a lifestyle product, on the other hand a product even my mother could use. And whilst many companies brought more functionality to the table in their comparable products, none of them even got close the market share of the iPod.

Yet to make this product to what it is, form didn’t have to follow function; form needed to equal function. These thoughts are quite in line with the theory that prettier things work better (once written about by Don Norman)

One of the laws of simplicity is REDUCE. This is contradictory to ‘form follows function’, since it’s sole purpose is to remove functionality in favor of a simple form. So in that perspective form will have to follow function, yet function will also have to follow form. This equilibrium brings us to ‘form equals function’.

‘Form equals function’ is the principle that allows for good looking soft- and hardware whilst improving functionality. ‘Form equals function’ follows the laws of simplicity to reach a product that does exactly what it should do, as easy and as simple as possible. ‘Form equals function’ is the Apple Remote compared to a Logitech Harmony Remote. A Logitech Harmony remote indeed has more functions and is more flexible in it’s use. But is it more functional? Is having 60+ buttons on a remote functional? Isn’t going for two remotes that compliment eachother better than a single remote that can do everything?

Because if I watch a movie on a media center, I don’t need the 20+ TV related buttons. If I watch TV, I don’t need anything that lets me control the progress of a music track, a video or something else. And if I do any of these, I don’t need to control all the lights in my room. And even if I would need to control the lights in my room, there are so many simple interface possibilities next to cramming on more buttons.

More buttons get more functions to your fingertips. But more functions isn’t necessarily functional. In the current day and age the form of a functional object needn’t be compromised, it needs to be thought through to be as functional as possible in the most simple way. Both sides of the coin are equally important. Form equals function.