When the Focus on Form Takes Away from Focus on Function

Fish form function

I’m going to skirt around the specifics of an issue here because, to be honest, I don’t want to get my bosses mad at me for writing publicly about an issue even as they continue to work behind the scenes to revise and update what I am referring to here. I also remain hopeful that this issue that has been bothering me the last few days will be resolved in a thoughtful way.

It has to do with the idea of form and function.

I know there is plenty of design theory out there around the ways in which the format of a thing shapes the content of the thing, or how the medium is the message and all that. I see it and I understand it, and I even often work as a writer in those very confines, even as I seek to push at the edges of the possible within forms.

But there are times when, well, the function has to influence the form of the thing. That is, if the structure of the container takes so much away from the content and message of what goes into the container, then you probably need a new container, not a new bag o’ content. Not if the content is important enough, anyway, or not if you are so passionate about what is being said that you can’t fit that fish in that fishbowl, you know what I mean?

Get a new fishbowl.

In this particular case, I have made some suggestions about some content being proposed in a sort of new container but I haven’t been able to articulate this perception (and I am not alone in this) that the design goal of the container itself is greatly impacting the content that will go into the container.

We seem to be wrestling cats into a box, and the cats refuse to fit. You don’t cut the tails off the cats to make them fit in the box. You get a bigger box. Or something other than the box you had in mind. Maybe a mobile home or something.

I haven’t entered this particular design fray discussion because it has taken me a few days to mull over what has been bugging me about it so much, and I realize, we were never really asked for input over design. The shape of the container seemed to have been decided already, in advance. So, we might have tail-less cats and dead goldfish on our hands (if you take my comedic, metaphorical thinking to a tragic conclusion here).

I realize, as you read this, you may be scratching your head as I dance around the specifics here on the page, wondering what the hell I am talking about. Fish? Cats? No. Neither. Sorry. Again, I am hopeful this issue all gets resolved through a process now underway, but I found I needed to get down on the page some of my thinking about form and function, and which trumps the other, and when.

Thank you for the reader therapy session … I’ll pay my fee on the way out the door. If I can fit through the door. Maybe you need a new door. It seems a bit too small ….

Peace (that fits in all boxes of all sizes everywhere),

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