Form & Function

This week, the studio found itself engaging in the classic form vs. function debate. Some believe that form does indeed follow function while some approach aesthetic issues first. The discussion arose due to the point we’re at with Primary Care: it’s time to start thinking about a comprehensive look for the project.

As the discussion continued, it reminded us of the importance of both form and function. In the course of a long-term project like this, it’s easy to focus on one and lose sight of the other. Part of the studio believes that the form of the medical environment should be considered before the aesthetics, while others are giving priority to the look of the objects and spaces we’re designing.

Like most things, this isn’t a black and white issue. Though we all care about both form and function, we’re approaching the two in different ways. As a group, we believe the standard medical exam room needs a more humane, almost “living room” look to make users feel more relaxed and promote healthy physician/patient relationship building. It’s also a place that needs to be highly functional at the same time. The question we’re facing is where that balance lies.

On-site research for the Primary Care project.

Our research showed that the PAs (physician assistants) need a well-designed exam room to work in. At the same time they, need a comfortable, visually-pleasing space conducive to building PA/patient relationships. These relationships have a direct bearing on key health issues such as patient compliance with chronic disease management efforts (i.e. – diabetes, heart disease, etc). While working with the PAs, we observed that the patient is always being talked at while sitting up on a tall table in a sterile-feeling exam room. It’s a situation that hampers good communication between the PA and the patient. People don’t want to be lectured at, they want to have conversations. Aesthetics is important when building an environment in which people can be relaxed and open to new information.  At the same time, the workspace should be practical, efficient, and hygienic. In the end, we’re all trying to find where function and aesthetics intersect. Where that is remains up for debate.

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About corlettt

I teach industrial design at Philadelphia University.
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