Form and Function In Web Design
A lot of thought goes into how to proceed when starting a new website or web app project. There are a lot of considerations on the table from what framework to use to what font works best for the project.
In these considerations, there are two dominant factors whose influence on the project has to be weighed carefully before the project is realized. The first factor is form and the other is function. The two are always weighed against each other and the success of a project depends on how each one is leveraged.
Form and Function
Form deals with the usability and aesthetics features of a website or web app. It brings in considerations such as what color scheme to use or whether the website or web app should fit the entire screen or only occupy two thirds of the screen in width.
It is form that makes a site more appealing to the senses and invokes an emotional response. If a website has great form, it will attract users who will want to use it again and again. A drab site on the other hand will not do much to attract users nor encourage them to return. Poor form will result in disappointing statistics for usage.
Function for a website or web app is all all about providing the necessary functionality that will bring value to the user experience and help “solve a problem”. The distinction between Amazon and Facebook is a great example of what is involved in function.
Amazon is an eCommerce website whilst Facebook is a social media website. Their functionality caters to different functional requirements and they provide distinctly unique value propositions. The user of the Amazon website wants to have the best shopping experience whilst the user of Facebook is looking for a great social experience.
When designing a website or web app, the two aspects of form and function must be weighed against each other and often they work in opposition to each other. As one focuses on one, they quickly discover that they are deviating from the other.
An example of this is search engine optimization and design. The most elegantly designed and best looking websites often do not do so well in search engine optimization. Beautiful design is an aesthetic quality and therefore an aspect of form.
Search engine optimization is an objective and an aspect of function and the best search engine optimized websites are not the most aesthetically pleasing. This opposition between aesthetic quality and search engine optimization arises because the two considerations are aimed at different set of audiences.
Quality aesthetics and beauty are aimed at a human audience who visually appreciate the website or web app. Search engine optimization on the other hand is targeted at robots who look at the semantics of a website as opposed to visually appreciating it.
Striking A Balance
If the two aspects of form and function are often in opposition, what then is the best approach? It is a mistake to only focus on form because you run the risk of ignoring function. At the same time focusing only on function will result in form being neglected.
The best approach is to strike a balance. A designer might say the thing that makes a website great is to have it look beautiful and appealing to the eye whilst a web developer may say the best approach is to have a website that works flawlessly and is easy to navigate. Ultimately the best website or web app is one that strikes the perfect balance between the two aspects of form and function.