Design and branding agencies, ourselves included, often repeat the form before function mantra. It is a neat encapsulation of what good design should entail, which also appeals hugely to the clients and patrons who pay for the work. After all, why spend money on a new design or brand if, pretty though it might be, it doesn’t perform the core function? The logic applies just as much to the furniture in your new kitchen and the phone in your pocket. Function led design is not just an important aspect of design; it is practically a commandment that every designer has drummed into them at both school and by current design culture.


This dominant philosophy can be traced back to one place, one German art school, open for only fourteen years the best part of a century ago: Bauhaus. The impact Bauhaus has had on design is hard to measure but easy to see. IKEA, VW and Apple (to name just three dominant brands) can trace their design and brand lineage back to Bauhaus.


The architect Walter Gropius, the founder of the school, had a genius for finding common ground between the industrial, commercial world and that of the designer. He thought the designer was absolutely necessary for the modern world, to make it palatable, but he also saw that the design must be led by research into the function of the design. He called it ‘Wesenforschung’ (research into the essence), where the point of design was to expose the function, the essence, of an object. The function had to be expressed as openly as was possible. He advocated “a minimalist style of businesslike character, clear colours, powerful forms and transparent structures.”* A description which we feel would fit just about any successful, lasting design of the last century.


It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Bauhaus formalised the modern aesthetic. In fact, it is impossible to get away from the clarity and success of the vision even now, some ninety five years after the school was founded. From web to industrial design, designers are still, often unconsciously, recycling the ideals and functional elegance of Bauhaus.


Like to know more? This recent Radio 4 programme and this video from the Open University would be good places to start. Then after that you can come and chat to us about how we approach function led design ourselves.


*Franzen, G. Moriarty, S. (2009) The Science and Art of Branding