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1.7 Product form and function

Another important aspect that affects the balance of the PDS is the relative importance of a product's form compared with its function. These attributes of a product are often ascribed to two subdivisions of the design discipline: engineering design or industrial design.

The amount of attention given to the function of a product compared to its form will depend very much on the nature of the product and its market. Every product has some functional requirements. We are perhaps most concerned that the brakes on our cars do not fail, our clothing does not fall apart or our cups do not leak. Even a work of art, say a painting, has a series of important functional criteria to meet. For example the canvas and frame must be stiff and robust enough to hold the painting securely and the paint itself should not run or discolour with time. But what makes a painting attractive is not usually the quality of its construction and execution but rather its appearance. If I were to paint something it is unlikely that you would be prepared to pay me enough to cover even the raw material costs, so it is clear that in this instance it is the form of the product that adds value to it.

At the other extreme, a gearbox for a motor car has to meet very many functional requirements to fit into the rest of the car, and its looks are of less importance. A buyer of a gearbox will be much more concerned about how well it performs its engineering function than how it looks. In all products, however, it is a case of meeting the functional requirements first and alterations to the form, to add value if necessary, can only be carried out within the constraints imposed by those functions.