Why form should follow feeling, not function

AI will give brands the opportunity to create personalised, human-centred experiences for audiences, generating love and loyalty. Here, R/GA UK’s Kyle Wheeler explains how brands can prepare for the next level of customer experience

Form follows function right? As a designer schooled in modernist principles this phrase has been drilled into me as a mantra of good design. Ornamentation? I shudder at the thought. In digital experience less has always been more – simple, frictionless paths the ultimate goal.

But here’s the thing, the phrase form follows function isn’t modern at all, it’s well over 100 years old. It was coined alongside the industrial revolution in the early days of mechanisation. The fact it is recited so regularly in design critique of digital experiences highlights that so many of the interfaces we build have more in common with 19th century machine control panels than the emotive, intuitive experiences we should be interacting with in the 21st century. How many times have you completed a Captcha to prove you’re not a robot? Well, the more pertinent question is, if I need to prove I’m human, does that mean what I’m doing is the work of a robot?

Our digital lives are spent typing into boxes, selecting buttons, switching toggles. Designers of digital experiences spend a lot of time thinking about how to guide people through interfaces, scrutinising the flow of buttons and actions to reach desired destinations and outcomes. The way flows are designed have a lot in common with circuit boards and production lines. What is often missing from all of this? Humanity.

But here’s the good news – this is about to change. A profound transformation is fast approaching, one that will reshape the way we engage with the web and interfaces as a whole. The days of robotically clicking through multiple pages to find or enter information, or sifting through page after page of search results, are numbered.