Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability, SEO, relationship marketing and consumer psychology.


Sometimes Form's Gotta Follow Function

"Form [ever] follows function"
- Louis Henri Sullivan, Lippincott's Magazine, March, 1896

I know you’ve heard the phrase “Form follows function.” It’s a design perspective that indicates the connection between how something looks and how it gets used: the purpose of a thing is a primary consideration in its design. It’s the basis for why a spoon is a spoon and not a shovel - even though you can use both to dig a hole.

Now, you certainly can play around with that equation and give form the starring role. And there’s something to be said for that … IF you can afford to sacrifice function.

If you’re in e-commerce, you can’t afford to do that.

I happen to be waiting for repairs to my car (sigh … nobody round here knows how to service my space ship). You know weird things start ionizing in your head when you stay in car repair waiting rooms too long, right?

So, think about this. You want to buy a car. As you search around, you fully expect to find lots of things out there that look and function like a car. They’ll have four tires. An engine. A dashboard. A steering wheel. Seats. A trunk. Doors. Pedals. And you pretty much know where these features are going to be on the car - I mean, you’re not gonna find the dashboard attached to the rear bumper.

There may be lots of different car designs out there, but functionally, they are all far more similar than dissimilar. And every one of the features that makes a car a car has a reason for why it is where it is. Sure, sometimes you have to make a compromise in location, but seriously mess with the arrangement of a car, and you no longer have a car.

What’s this gotta do with your Web site? There are enough studies out there that confirm folks have expectations about the functional features of your Web site. They know the features they want to find, they know how they want them to work, and they know where they expect to find them. The last thing you want to do is make folks figure out how your unique place in cyberspace works. Force ‘em to think about this stuff, and they’re gone.

More important, we know a lot about how folks use a Web site … how their eyes track a page when they first land there, how they scan and skim text, how they interact with content, how they use navigation.

Think most folks are getting it right out there? Jared Spool, of Usability Interface Engineering, recently gave a group of folks bucks to spend on stuff they wanted to buy. You couldn’t have a more motivated prospect land on your site!

High success rate? Nope. Overall, 70% of those folks failed in their mission. I’m shaking my head!

What you do with the design of your site should have its roots in the function of your site. Trouble is, too many people still think (or are influenced to think) that image is all and that folks will make allowances for diverse functional anomalies (or worse, failures). Hooey! There are folks who are passionate about their Mazda Miatas. But I tell you what. If those Miatas didn’t work like they’re supposed to, all their fans would be driving something else.

So let me ask you something. Have you invested the time to figure out the form and function equation on your site so you’re not leaving money on the table?


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GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledges and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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