Form vs. Function: Which Should Web Design Focus on?

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The principle that form follows function shapes many forms of design—automobile, architecture, fashion. The designer’s primary goal is to create something that achieves its purpose well and then style the rest. That’s why cars look like cars; the main goal is to get from point A to point B quickly and safely and look as good as possible.

In Web Design, Form Often Follows Function

In Web Design, form often follows function. In the v1 Web, the main goal was to communicate content to visitors and make it easy for visitors to navigate around your site.

Using tables to organize content and span across multiple columns with images on the side was a way to fit more content on the screen without sacrificing easy navigation. Designers found ways to use CSS to bring some style to the sites.

But the design was still important.

Even though functionality was the top priority, designers still put a lot of time and effort into creating a good-looking site. Accessibility and usability were not the priorities today, but they were at least a part of the design process. The sites were not very interactive, but they held a lot of great content. 

The Purpose of a Website

If you don’t know the purpose of the website, it’s hard to know where to start or how to get there. The same is true of any form of design.

For example, suppose the purpose of a car is to get from point A to point B. In that case, a car should look like a car and have the proper interior and exterior features to achieve this purpose, even if it looks like a spaceship, a car from the 1950s, or an all-electric vehicle.

A Website’s Purpose Should Be Clear

In Web Design, a website’s purpose should be clear. The site’s purpose is to generate revenue, drive traffic, and provide a voice for the business, product, or service.

When the purpose is clear, the design decisions become easier because you don’t have to determine if the site should look like a website, a brochure, a mobile application, etc.

You know that it should be engaging and fun to navigate.

In the early v2 Web, a website’s purpose was vaguer. It was still about communication and online sales, but the intention was less clear.

What did usability and accessibility mean for designers?

Would everyone see the website because it is designed for everyone or because it was designed for a specific audience?

What role should the website play in the life of the business?

You might choose something that looks like a website instead of a brochure, and you might use CSS to draw the user’s attention and make it more accessible, but the purpose of the site was unclear.


If it’s unclear what the website is, how can you know how the design should look and how the content should be organized?

A clear purpose of the site will give you a clear picture of its function and how it should look. A clear purpose also allows you to write your design brief and helps you create better user journeys for your visitors.

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