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Form follows function.

In the realm of design, the principle of “form follows function” has stood the test of time, influencing generations of designers and shaping countless iconic products. This principle asserts that the shape of a product should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose. For business leaders, understanding this concept can unlock new avenues for innovation and customer satisfaction. Let’s explore how this principle has been applied by renowned designers and movements, and why it remains crucial in today’s business landscape.

Coined by architect Louis Sullivan in the late 19th century, “form follows function” has become a cornerstone of modern design philosophy. It emphasizes that the design of a product should be based on its intended use rather than aesthetic considerations alone. This approach ensures that products are not only visually appealing but also practical, user-friendly, and efficient.

The Swiss Design Movement

The Swiss Design Movement, also known as the International Typographic Style, emerged in the 1950s and 1960s and is a prime example of the “form follows function” principle in action. This movement focused on clarity, simplicity, and objectivity, using grid-based layouts, sans-serif typefaces, and a minimalist approach to design. Swiss designers believed that the visual presentation should serve the content, enhancing communication and functionality.

Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer, is one of the most influential advocates of the “form follows function” principle. His work at Braun in the 1960s and 1970s set new standards for functional, user-centric design. Rams’ “Ten Principles of Good Design” underscore the importance of utility and simplicity. He believed that good design is as little design as possible, stripping away unnecessary elements to focus on the product’s core purpose.

Rams’ iconic designs, such as the Braun SK 4 record player and the T3 pocket radio, are celebrated for their functional elegance. These products were not only aesthetically pleasing but also highly intuitive and easy to use, embodying the essence of “form follows function.”

Jony Ive, the former Chief Design Officer at Apple, is another prominent figure who embraced the “form follows function” ethos. Ive’s design philosophy has been heavily influenced by Dieter Rams, and this is evident in many of Apple’s groundbreaking products. The iPod, iPhone, and MacBook are all examples of designs where functionality dictates form.

Ive’s designs prioritize user experience, with every curve, button, and material choice serving a specific purpose. This focus on function-driven design has been a key factor in Apple’s success, making their products not only beautiful but also highly practical and user-friendly.

For business leaders, adopting the “form follows function” principle can lead to the creation of products that truly meet customer needs and stand the test of time. By prioritizing functionality, businesses can enhance user satisfaction, build brand loyalty, and differentiate themselves in competitive markets. This approach encourages innovation, as designers are challenged to find the most efficient and effective solutions to meet user requirements.

The principle of “form follows function” remains as relevant today as it was when first articulated over a century ago. By focusing on the purpose and functionality of a product, businesses can create designs that are not only visually appealing but also practical and user-friendly. The Swiss Design Movement, along with designers like Dieter Rams and Jony Ive, exemplifies how this principle can drive innovation and success. For business leaders, embracing this timeless design philosophy can lead to the development of products that resonate deeply with customers and stand the test of time.

Good design is often considered subjective and can’t necessarily be measured. Dieter Rams attempted to express what he believed to be the most important principles for design:

Good design is innovative

Good design makes a product useful

Good design is aesthetic

Good design makes a product understandable

Good design is unobtrusive

Good design is honest

Good design is long-lasting

Good design is thorough down to the last detail

Good design is environmentally-friendly

Good design is as little design as possible

These principles have become iconic and have inspired designers across the world.