ABSTRACT

The great form versus function debate within design reflects analogous controversy in society. It raises the large issue of life’s priorities: pleasure or business, expressivity or fulfilling practical need. In more concrete terms of goods production, the question is whether products ought to be made useful or beautiful. If not one or the other, then where should the “compromise,” the “balance,” the “line,” be located? Asking which matters most or even what the balance should be, I will try to show, is fruitless. More radically, I believe that what appears to be form can alternatively be viewed as function and what is thought functional can be seen as aesthetic. But the fact that the argument takes place, and that people take positions within it, affects the goods. I want to show the way both form and function, as each is conventionally understood, enter into products. But in addition, I want to show how the debate itself, variously naïve or sophisticated, also lodges in the stuff.