Functional Design

The internet has done a great job of showing the world the endless possibilities of every facet of design that you can possibly fathom. Actually, I believe that the recent explosion in variety of design concepts has been fostered by the internet. By this I mean that now designers can easily see what other artists and designers are doing. This isn’t only helpful for people who want to emulate others. It’s also extremely stimulating and inspiring to see the level at which your peers are operating.

How Is Functional Trendy?

The ‘Functional Design’ trend really isn’t a trend at all. This is the way that designers have been creating products all along! However, in a time where all types of design concepts are being explored (some more functional than others), there has been a yearning to create things that are more immediately useful to the end user. Functional design focuses on simplifying the overall structure of products. It demands that every piece or component has only one responsibility. This simplifies the design process, especially when working together with a team of professionals to create a single end product. You have to admire this design concept if not only for its conciseness.

Consider The Goal

There are a few key concepts to consider when designing within the ‘functional design’ framework. The first being the end goal of the product. The design of the average claw hammer is a good example. When you first look at the product, it’s very self explanatory. Not only as far as what the goal of the tool is, but also in the method of use. The claw hammer is such a simple and obvious design it’s actually become a symbol of construction work itself. If you were to see an icon with a hammer on it, you would understand that it has something to do with construction or building of some kind.

Basic Claw Hammer

Think About the User

One of the chief concerns when creating any product is the end user. How will they be using it, where will they be using it, and most importantly who are they? Those are all very important questions that you have to be able to answer before you even get started with the design process. One of the objectives in product design is the ability for someone to pick up your product and be able to use it immediately, without reading instructions or doing any other research of their own. It’s obvious that sometimes users will need to read the instructions for safety reasons, but this doesn’t change the fact that many of the best products inspire even novices in the respective field to be able to ‘grab and go’. These same design principles apply not only to physical products but to the world of web design as well. We can all appreciate a website that makes what you’re supposed to do next very apparent. SuitSupply’s site does a great job of this. It’s very clear the moves that you’re supposed to make. This is a good example of catering to the specific user group that will be using the site while avoiding anything that’s unnecessarily complicated.

Suit Supply Website

Don’t Forget the Feedback!

One of the most essential aspects to good user design is timely feedback. I was reading an article on another site that brought up the old days of the internet. Remember those? How about on an eCommerce site when they would warn you to only press the purchase button once or risk duplicating your order? That’s an example of poor feedback. Your product needs to be able to communicate with the user whether or not it’s working (or if there’s a problem as quickly as possible.) Some products are more effective at this than others, if not only due to the nature of the product itself. I have an uncle that works as a semi truck driver out in upstate New York. One of the biggest problems that they have in their business is keeping their trucks clean. Not only does a dirty truck look bad, but it takes time out of their schedules and money out of their pockets to clean them. This is why covering their wheels with poly truck fenders is so helpful to them. That is a perfect example of product feedback. It’s easy for the drivers to see if their fenders are working because they will notice how long it’s taking for their trucks to get dirty. If their truck is getting covered in road spray they will know that something isn’t right and needs to be adjusted right away.

Semi Truck

What Happens When There’s A Problem?

One of the final, yet most important, considerations that go along with functional design is problem resolution. How frustrating is it to the user when something goes wrong? A good example of the proper way to handle errors, at least in the web design field, is a website that offers a good ‘404’ page. A 404 page shows up when you arrive a web page that doesn’t exist on the domain. A good 404 page will acknowledge that something has gone wrong as well as offer a good suggestion on what to do next. My personal favorite 404 page is from AirBnB. Their page offers a funny animation of a girl who suddenly loses the ice cream from her cone. More importantly than the entertaining animation is that the page offers to redirect you to some of their most helpful pages. This ensures that there aren’t any “dead ends” on the site. That means that even if you end up in a broken link chain somehow, you will be funneled back into the site in a sensical manner.

AirBnB 404 Page

What does functional design mean to you? Do you have any example of great functional design that I may have missed or any aspects that I failed to cover?