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Should Web Design be Inspired by Form or Function?

Would you say that your website design is primarily shaped by form or function?

Written By
Dan Partridge

American architect Louis Sullivan wrote way back in 1896 that

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form… follows function. This is the law.”

His point is very clear. A clear principle that spans many varieties of design – architecture, motoring, fashion etc – is that the designer’s primary goal is to create something which achieves its purpose. The stylistic form of the design is then shaped within this framework. This is why cars look like cars; the primary goal is to achieve a vehicle suitable for transportation, speed, safety etc, and then within this remit to make it look as good as possible.

In web design, form often follows function…

It’s not hard to see why. An initial consultation with the client results in a number of agreed goals. Functional goals. This might involve creating a responsive e-commerce website to sell shoes. It might require a simple, intuitive photo gallery. The client might be looking to prioritise social media integration.

The web designer then looks to produce a series of draft web designs that meet the agreed goals.

However, whilst this is often how we function – and a great way to build cracking websites – website design is one of the few areas in which highly successful, useable websites can be shaped both by form and by function.

In fact, this is one of the ways in which web design trends are developed.

Whilst responsive web design and mobile website design are clearly birthed from a functional requirement – i.e. to communicate information more effectively on mobile and tablet devices – there are several ways in which form is helping to shape our expectations. This in turn is driving a move away from more standardised websites.

You might have seen examples of one-page web design. This typically involves stripping down the information that a website contains, removing traditional menus and styling and encouraging the reader to think a little differently about navigation. These websites tend to be minimalist, eschew clutter and be highly engaging. This kind of web design is a little harder to use, but provides a far more dynamic experience.

Typographic websites, which often feature only text, might appear to be merely functional – quick loading, easy to update, ideal for a range of viewing devices etc. However, web designers feel permission to build websites in this way because a huge increase in the availability of beautiful web fonts has meant that we’re able to sites which wouldn’t have worked with the previous generation of typefaces. It’s made possible by form.

We appreciate that for many businesses a highly functional, traditional style website is a huge priority. However, we also get excited about the opportunity to lend creative, artistic touches to this kind of website. Whether it’s related to navigation, sliding/hovering, imagery or graphic design, we love to create web designs that are inspired by form and function. That’s part of the reason why every member of our team has a design background.

So, while you’re browsing the web this week, have a look out for websites that take form seriously. If you’re looking to revamp your web design and are looking for something a little bit different, why not get in touch?

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