Does Form Really Follow Function? 

What causes design? Is it rational, empirical, or metaphysical? Many scholars would defer to any given favorite philosophical school of thought, but in the classroom I often see design bloom from causal things that change or modify students’ lives in a direct way. This leads me to believe that emotions within the social construct also play a huge part in design, possibly even much larger than guides driven by design standards or even rational logic. I have witnessed freshman design students who have little to no formal design training construct mind blowing creations from the seeming depths of despair within their own personal lives. Design was their way of expressing their own emotions and it came from within. It wasn’t driven or governed by a function or need, it simply arose.

When I was in school, design professors taught lessons based on experiences and age-old thoughts about how to design around the function of an element or object, but little was ever spoken about the emotional side of design. Since I have been teaching design in the classroom for the past decade, I can now see that there is a much deeper side of design; the side where design is driven by individualism and presented separately within each of us. I believe design is natural and we all possess it; it is not a skill or talent, but rather a metaphysical sense that is governed by our own individual lives and experiences. Many times we cloud this sense with design conformity and the physical bounds of projects, both of which we succumb to, rather than work around. This obscurity shouldn’t govern or rule design, but rather serve as a guide or roadmap to follow. Internally and emotionally, we can still deviate from the map and see the sights as long as we don’t forget our way back to the main road.

I have had the awesome advantage of being in a wheelchair for the past twenty years and I view this as beneficial because it has given me not only a much different perspective on my surroundings but also driven appreciation for the way users interact with their designed surroundings. When an able-bodied user interacts with a built form, the design presents numerous choices and affordances, all of which govern and control their experiences within the environment. My choices are limited to a linear set of controls governed by physical access alone. This has allowed me to conceptualize design in a new way that encompasses all users in a universal form and it is this very way of thinking that has driven my own metaphysical design sense. In a sense, I have combined what I can physically do with the designs I conceptualize in my head, which are based on no physical limitations. This has become the birth of metaphysical design. It is controlled by my emotional state and driven by a need to be physically equal.

I used to wonder how those without sight conceptualize design. How do they govern their ideas and thoughts about paraphrasing their own ideas so everyone can have a glimpse inside their depths? I once had a design student that lost his sight at birth; he was my best student and had never seen or experienced form in any way. How did he know? He knew because design is, in fact, instinctive, we just govern it with social rules that limit its true potential.