Form follows function is a design principle that has been set out since the early 20th Century when Louis Sullivan coined the phrase. This rule has held true throughout the development of many IT system where the functionality of the systems took precedence over how they looked or the user experience that was had in its human interaction.
While this rule still holds true today it is interesting to note how many people, including executives, are now choosing the look & feel (form) of a device over the function. Thus sacrificing many items of functionality for something that looks good is easier to use and allows them to continue to work wherever they are.
This observation was driven home while working with a client who wanted to provide their workforce with tablet devices (iPads) to work remotely and publish their applications using remote applications (Citrix Receiver and XenApp). All of their requirements were met, the pilot was accepted and the user community eagerly awaited this capability.
When released to the masses many people found using a remote application with the standard Windows interface cumbersome and did not fit in with the user experience they had become accustomed to working with their tablet. Rather than battling through and continuing to use the application, the user community reverted back to old practices of sending information in email so they could work on it out of the office then bringing it back into the system afterwards.
The result being that instead of being seen as an enabler, IT was once again seen as putting up barriers. This I believe is a good example where concentrating on the functionality resulted in a bad user experience, supporting and perpetuating bad practices.
If the same level of consideration was given to the user experience with the necessary time and due diligence given to mapping the user persona by understanding what they need, when they need it and how they want to consume it then tailoring the solution to match the desired experience should have resulted in adapting the user interfaces to suit the delivery medium, thus providing the environment that encourages use. The technical presentation of the application could remain the same.
As we plough ever forward into the world of IT systems and services, would it be more true to say that good design is the marriage of form and function?