Why “Form Follows Function”

For those wondering about the site’s title, it (like many concepts in the practice of virtual architecture) is taken from the world of physical architecture. Louis Sullivan was an influential Chicago-area architect and mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright, who became known as the “father of skyscrapers” as well as the “father of modernism”. Sullivan’s philosophy (one that certainly applies to application design) was that, above all, the design should reflect its intended use. That philosophy was laid out in an 1896 article, The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight or the open apple blossom the toiling work horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies in a twinkling.

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 ever follows function. This is the law.

Sullivan’s words aptly convey the prime principle for all architects and it is in tribute to him that I take the common paraphrase “Form follows function” as the title for this site.

5 thoughts on “Why “Form Follows Function”

  1. Pingback: Search Engine Serendipity « Form Follows Function

  2. Form follows function may also indicate a paradigm in software design: Form (UI) follows function (backend/API/model).
    While some software evangelists advocate producing front-end designs ahead of other architectural concepts, it is WHY and WHAT the client/user needs that should take precedence over HOW to do it.
    Once again, Form Follows Function

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    • Indeed. For a very long time I’ve built systems in a manner as though the UI were only one of many clients (using a task-oriented, message passing style). This has allowed me to create multiple UI apps when needed as well as expose functionality via services without duplicating code.

      As you say, WHY and WHAT are what’s important…HOW needs to enable them with the least constraint on future evolution.

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  3. Sure. Its the very basic law. Intention has to come first to evolve in to desire shape. Or in other way it is the intention that drives the shape. In architecture terms the wait has always been to find those fresh intention(s), to proceed and sign the oath of allegiance, and turn it in to desired shape(s).

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  4. Pingback: The Seductive Myth of Greenfield Development | Form Follows Function

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