Form follows function – or does it?

What is more important in designing furniture: function or form? Should a piece of furniture be designed on the basis of the task to be performed, or should it be designed on the basis of aesthetic appeal? It can of course be both functional, and look good. There is an adage that form follows function, i.e. function is paramount, form is secondary. Most vintage furniture (pre-1950) was both simple and functional. An armoire may have been painted, or had some simple carvings, but most furniture was not the ornate style of French aristocrats. It had to be functional.

At some point we abandoned pure function for some quasi combination of function+form. This may have occurred in the early 1950’s, when advertising began to really sway our perspectives: streamlined objects, coloured appliances, the use of aluminum, plastic etc. in design. Now, when we shop for a piece of furniture, we are often first drawn to aesthetic appeal. For instance, Danish Modern style. – we make the assumption that all pieces are functional, as that is intrinsic to the style, and therefore focus more on aesthetics. Consider the following sideboards. They are all functional, i.e. they hold things, they are all made of a similar material, they all have roughly the same shape.


But which of the sideboards is more aesthetically appealing? The answer of course is in the eye of the beholder, but they all exemplify beauty. Design in the 21st century has evolved to the point where form often eclipses function, because we do not question the latter.


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