You've all heard the derisive phrases "form over function", "lipstick on a pig" and the like. The gist of these epithets is to indicate that more care and attention is put into how something looks than into how that something works. Its a fair criticism when the function is lacking, but I'd argue that when the function is solid, the form is an equally important consideration. Function without form is no function at all. I believe that this is an important concept that is ignored. I believe that this needs to be a fundamental tenet of the IT industry. I believe that form is the diferentiator and I'll tell you why.
What Jacket are you?
Before we dive into the IT side of things, let me give you the example that sparked this thought process. It has to do with a jacket. I stumbled across a burgeoning business http://www.saboteurman.com/ which is attempting to merge the startup mentality with the fashion business, with the brilliant twist of marketing the fashion product back to the startup community. I love the concept. And I love the execution: the jackets and shirts look gorgeous. But here's the thing...think about the function of a jacket. It covers the upper body; it provides pockets; it puts the wearer into a different stratum of formality. No matter the jacket, that is its fundamental function. When you look at the site, however, Saboteur has 5 different cuts. All jackets. All the same function. All that differs is some subtle change in its form (the waterproofing of the Invicible asside). But when I shared this site, the first question that came back was "They look great, but which jacket are you?" Without a second thought I said "the Invincible or the Royal." Despite the infinitesimal differences in style between the 5 jackets, I had immediately and unequivocally eliminated 3. Think about that, because its important. The question wasn't "what jacket do you like best?" or "what colour do you like?" The question was more of a statement about which of these best represents my own personal view of the subtleties that makes me, me.
All businesses need a jacket
So to bring this conversation back around, think about what most businesses need. Every business has something that they sell...a sproket if you will. Businesses need to track how many sprokets they have to sell, how many will be available to sell in the future, how many have been sold, for how much and who has paid for the ones they've purchased. There's a need to track addresses and birthdays and peeves and preferences for all those customers and there's often the need to tailor the workflow based on each one. Every business needs to do all of that and its not all of that that makes them special. The stuff that you do to support your business is just business, its your sproket that makes you special. So as IT people, we make software that supports the business. We automate and add efficiencies to all that function. If software was like tailoring, we're making a coat with all the right features. There are two problems with this analogy though. First, its as though we IT people seem to need to discover every time that a jacket needs sleeves where a tailor will question your sanity if you ask for a jacket without them. And second, we IT people tend to focus on the function, and as I pointed out above, despite the identical function in all 5 jackets, it was the form I identified with.
Form is where the heart is
We've come to realize, here at E-By Design, that we've been focussing on the wrong thing. We've been "making jackets" for our clients for years, and only through trial and error realizing that they like wool instead of rayon. We've started the conversation with "One sleeve or two" rather than "what colour do you want your silk lining?" We've come to realize that if we can come to understand your sproket and figure out the style you identify with, the function's are a given and almost always the same. When function is solid, form is where the heart is. We've realized that if we can get our client's hearts into their software we've been a success. And we're shifting our business model around that realization, so stay tuned.