Form and Function in Design and Publishing

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Form follows function is a principle that states that the shape (form) that something takes should be chosen based on its intended purpose and function.

Often applied to architecture, engineering, and industrial design, the statement form follows function applies to both graphic design and desktop publishing. For designers, form is the element that makes up our designs and our pages. Function is the objective of the design whether it is a sign giving directions or a book that entertains with a story.

The Concept of Form

In print design, form is both the overall look and feel of the page as well as the shape and look of the individual components — the typefaces, the graphic elements, the texture of the paper. Form is also the format of whether the piece is a poster, a tri-fold brochure, a saddle-stitched booklet, or a self-mailer newsletter.

The Concept of Function

For designers, function is the practical, getting-down-to-business part of the process of design and desktop publishing. Function is the purpose of the piece whether it is to sell, to inform or educate, to impress, or to entertain. It includes the copywriting message, the audience, and the cost of getting the project printed.

Form and Function Working Together

Function needs form in order to accomplish its goal, as form without function is just a pretty piece of paper.

Function is deciding that a poster plastered around town would be the best way to inform the general public about a band's upcoming club performance. Function is specifying how much the band can spend on that poster. Form is choosing the size, colors, fonts, and images based on the function and arranging the text and graphics so that the poster attracts attention and looks good.

To practice the rule of form follows function, start the design process by first getting as much information as possible about the purpose of the piece you are creating. Ask questions about how the piece is to be used, such as:

  • Who is the target audience and what are their expectations?
  • Is the piece supposed to sell a tangible product or an idea?
  • Is it to develop goodwill, create branding, or public awareness about a company, an event, or an issue?
  • What is the budget for this project? What quantity of this piece is needed?
  • How will this project be distributed — by mail, door-to-door, in-person, as part of a magazine, newsletter, newspaper, or book?
  • What action is the recipient likely to take with the piece — throw it away, stick on the wall, file for reference, pass it around, fax it around, put it on a shelf?
  • What elements are required by the client-specific colors, specific fonts, specific images, a certain printer?

Once you know the function of the piece and the practical parameters and limitations for putting the job together, you get to put it into a form that supports the function using your knowledge of the principles of design, the rules of desktop publishing and graphic design, and your creative vision.

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Your Citation
Bear, Jacci Howard. "Form and Function in Design and Publishing." ThoughtCo, Jun. 2, 2022, Bear, Jacci Howard. (2022, June 2). Form and Function in Design and Publishing. Retrieved from Bear, Jacci Howard. "Form and Function in Design and Publishing." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).