I seem to have gotten myself into a bit of a tangent. Like, a whole blog post’s worth.
When I saw the line in Human Dignity & Human Rights that said, “I believe we all recognized the significant transformation of the old design theme of ‘form and function’ into the new theme of ‘form and content,'” I had an elusive “a-ha” moment. (Now that I think about it, this also applies to the Are Humanitarian Designers Imperialists? article as well.)
You really need all three. Especially in a multimedia, information architecture-based field. Form, function, and content are all dependent on each other.
Like Maslow’s hierarchy, or the old-school food guide pyramid (not the weird, new one), there’s a foundation, some intermediates, and the nice-to-haves at the top. Content is near the base of design. Function depends on that content to have any reason for existing, and form is driven by that function.
So, the Goering Hierarchy of Design looks something like this (with the least important/urgent aspect on the top):
[ aesthetics ] (elements of art, prettification & polish)
[ form ] (UI comes into play here. This is where sketches and wireframes happen. This is all based on the function, content, and needs, and gives the user a means to come into contact with the function.)
[ function ] (This is where channels come in. This is how and why we communicate. UX also goes here.)
[ content ] (This is the stuff that we gather from researching the needs and wants. This is what we design around.)
[ needs & wants ] (This is the research, which influences the content and provides the whole reason for designing in the first place.)
If your design misses any of these elements, you’ve failed. Probably not on an epic level (depending on your area of discrepancy), but on a level detectable by other worthwhile designers.
As with the obesity epidemic (relating to the food guide pyramid) and our egotistical/ignorant/jackass culture (relating to Maslow’s Hierarchy), our priorities tend to lie on the wrong end of the pyramid. We live at the top and over-indulge as a way to replace the foundations that we lack. The same goes for shitty designers. This is why places like CrappyDesign exist. People are too worried about making things flashy instead of being genuinely concerned with communicating a message, and the results are less than satisfactory, to say the least.
It’s our duty as designers (here’s where the advocacy thing ties in) to enforce that the users/clients/communities have their needs met, first and foremost.