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Form vs. function in interactive design

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

In the first session of Charlie Levenson‘s Business Strategies for New Media seminar we got into a heated discussion spurred by this quiz question:

The MOST important factor in interactive media project design is…
a. The intended audience.
b. The available budget.
c. Required functionality.
d. Deadlines for implementation.

Most of us felt that (a) was the correct answer. As developers we must always consider the user first when designing a site. Or as Charlie says, “It’s the user, stupid!” Ask first: who is your audience, what do you want to communicate and what do you want them to do?

But one of my classmates, who has a background in fine arts, argued for (c). Under Bauhaus design principles, she said, form follows function. Function is first.

This ignores the role of the user in Bauhaus. Functionality by Bauhaus principles is entirely based on purpose and usability.  A good design works for the user.

The more important application of Bauhaus to web design is this question of form vs. function. You can have an ugly website that works really well. But is that the best user experience?

Smashing Magazine has an interesting post about the application of Bauhaus principles to web design. Here’s its conclusion:

“Better questions come from your criteria for success. What aspects of your 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.”