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11 Examples of Form Follows Function

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Form follows function is a principle of architecture that states that the multi-dimensional shapes and spaces of structures is dictated by their function. This is often extended to the idea that all design is driven by functionality. Form follows function is considered a foundational principle of modern minimalist design. The following are common examples of what this means.


Design is driven by functional requirements.


Design includes nothing beyond filling requirements in the simplest way possible.

Embrace the Basics

Designs need not be creative – basic time-tested designs can be used over and over.


Designs can have repeated elements such as an office plan with 300 identical cubicles per floor and 40 identical floors.

Less is More

Removal of decoration and other human elements of design in pursuit of brute functionality.


Efficiency and austerity such as the cheapest materials that will fill a requirement.

Truth to Materials

Practical materials such as concrete or plastic that don’t pretend to be something they are not.


By not decorating anything designs are less likely to go out of style.


Cultureless designs that can be scaled globally to every nation and every city.

Lack of Time and Place

No consideration is given to history, community or the environment of a place. This allows for global industrial scale.

Non-functional Requirements

Post-industrial designs are focused on non-functional requirements such as branding, aesthetics, customer experience, usability, human factors, sustainability, risk and compliance. Form follows function is an industrial-age principle that fails to consider such factors and appears to advocate sidelining them.
Form follows function has been a central theme of design education since the end of WWII. Its minimalist and austere implications served the post war industrial economy whereby media, products and architecture were easier and cheaper to scale out when they had no decorations, culture or personality. The following are common challenges or alternatives to form follows function:

Less Is A Bore

Form follows function is commonly used to suggest that all ornamentation is useless to design. This is criticized as lifeless, boring and excessively plain. Louis Sullivan, the influential modern architect who coined the phrase form follows function, was known for his use of lush Art Nouveau decorations. He used the rule to define the major shapes of his designs and not as a philosophy against all artistic decoration.

Form Follows Nature

There are alternatives to form follows function such as organic designs that mimic natural forms or integrate with natural settings.

Vernacular Architecture

Local culture isn't considered by form follows function and tends to result in a building in Paris looking like a building in Tokyo or Toronto. Much modern architecture is culturally monotonous in its pursuit of function.

There's More Than One Way To Do It

Rectangles tend to maximize space and are thus highly functional. Form follows function, and modern architecture in general, has become associated with repetitive and unimaginative use of rectangular forms. As such, form follows function is associated with uninspired designs that use a principle as an excuse for mediocrity.

Non-Functional Requirements

Form follows function may not give proper consideration to non-functional requirements such as human factors, sustainability and aesthetics.
Overview: Form Follows Function
A principle of architecture that states that the shape of structures is dictated by their function.
Origin of the Term
Coined by American architect Louis Sullivan in the late 20th century. Sullivan is architected the world's first steel skyscrapers.
Practical designs that fulfill their function.
Common Criticisms
Potentially excludes all non-functional requirements in areas such as aesthetics, human factors, sustainability, community, culture, usability and user experience.
Related Concepts
Next: Design Minimalism
More design principles:
Ban The Average
Design Principles
Design To The Edges
Essential Complexity
Form Follows Function
Genius Loci
Input Is Error
Least Astonishment
Least Effort
More Is Different
More Is More
Negative Space
Truth To Materials
Worse Is Better
More ...
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