Posted by designzillas on 5/14/10
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Coined in 1896, the architects’ credo “form (ever) follows function” has a surprising influence on web aesthetics and architecture. The idea is that a building or product should be designed to suit its primary function, allowing a person to recognize and use the device with an almost instinctive understanding. While current devices can deviate in their overall design (think of the iPod shuffle which bears little resemblance to its music player predecessors), there are elements and visual cues which remain to help a person understand its purpose (play, pause buttons).
How can form follow function intangibly? To understand how to apply this principle to web design, you must first know the what, where and why of your users. Creating a great user experience is based on delivery. Build a site that gives a user what they need without complicating the process.
As a user, if you want to personally connect with friends you (like 500 million others) head to Facebook. If you want to search, you flock to Google. Successful sites do incredibly well when they cater to exactly what their users want. Determine the purpose of your site from a user’s point of view and use design to make its function recognizable. If your business sells clothing online, you know that a customer will visit to ultimately purchase exactly that. While you can add busy animations and video and music players to show your developmental prowess, it could easily result in a person becoming confused to the purpose of your site and overlook the ability to find clothes. Design to cater to their needs, making the experience of shopping online similar to shopping at a store. Give a customer that wants clothes the ability to buy some without any unnecessary distractions along the way.
It is no longer enough to just build a website. You need to determine where users are accessing your business and allow flexibility on function. Visiting a site from a mobile device can serve an entirely different purpose than visiting from a home computer. Understand that mobile browsing has an emphasis on finding usable information about a business: locations, directions, phone numbers. Use this to your advantage by having a mobile site that offers contact information easily, along with retaining access to your products. Reinforce your brand by remaining consistent in your mobile design while being insightful enough to emphasize what your customers are looking for depending on where they’re visiting from.
Aesthetics are not without function. Create the environment your customers are expecting from your brand to enhance their experience. If you sell clothing that is targeting a particular market, identify yourself accordingly. Someone looking for high-end products will look for a store that features very specific design elements, and while a site can not have cherry wood floors, it can exhibit the same feeling through intelligent design decisions.
Form follows function is a principle based on simplicity. Understand the need your site fulfills and make it do just that. Know your target market well enough to give them exactly what they want, how they want it, when they want it. Focus your design on creating a powerful user experience while continuing to be creative. Don’t feel limited: find a visually stunning new way to present it, all the while impressing users through functionality. Don’t just build a website, create an experience.