Introduction to the Form diagram

INDEX: Design to Improve Life®’s parameter Form focuses on a design’s aesthetic appearance and function.

The parameter Form is used to evaluate Design to Improve Life based on a design’s shape, aesthetic appearance, materials, colors, surface, interface, etc. The design’s functional abilities, ergonomics, legibility, accessibility and utility are also evaluated using the Form parameter. In short, all the traditional values of design are evaluated here.

The Form diagram is used to assess and evaluate a design’s form and function, and to generate reflections and debate among the students about what makes a design good or bad. This discussion is often a question of taste or preference. Through examination, discussion and evaluation of the design’s form, the students’ abilities to assess and reflect on the world from a visual, functional and aesthetic perspective is strengthened. Furthermore, the Form diagram will strengthen the students’ abilities to include more facets in their assessment of Design to Improve Life – not just the looks of the design, but also how it communicates to the user and how functional it is – when they evaluate others’ and their own Design to Improve Life solutions.

The Form diagram is divided into two dimensions – an aesthetic dimension and a functional dimension. When you are evaluating a design, you have to put an equal amount of emphasis on both dimensions. Each dimension includes two criteria, which are important when evaluating a design’s form. Within the aesthetic dimension, these are expression and integrity. Within the functional dimension, they are Usability and Development. As teacher, you are welcome to attach other or additional words to the evaluation.

The aesthetic dimension
When you are evaluating a Design to Improve Life solution from an aesthetic point of view, you should assess two criteria: Expression and integrity. Both criteria focus on the aesthetic abilities of the design.

Expression (appearance) focuses on the user’s first impression of the design. If it is a physical design, the expression will concentrate on the surface; shape, colors and texture. Which visual tools/measures are used and how does the design sell itself? How is the surface? E.g. does the design have a nice feel – is it soft or hard? How and why does/doesn’t it appeal to me?

If the design is intangible – e.g. an automated voice mail for an emergency medical service – the first impression will be based on the voice, the words and the phrasing.

Integrity focuses on a more holistic evaluation of the design and concentrates on the deeper meanings of the design’s aesthetic expression. The Integrity criterion is used to evaluate how a design’s shape is in balance or if it seems irregular or disharmonic. An example of this could be; how do the colors match the shape – Is there anything that is unpleasing to look at or seems disconnected?

Integrity in relation to an intangible design (e.g. voice mail) could focus on the connection between the tone of the voice and what is actually said.

The functional dimension
When you are evaluating a Design to Improve Life solution from the functional perspective it is important to assess two criteria: Usability and development. These criteria concentrate on the understanding of the design and the durability of the materials or elements being used.

When assessing a physical design, usability focuses on the design’s ergonomics, understandability and accessibility/availability. E.g. how do you handle the design? Do you immediately understand its function and how to use it? Is the design accessible when it is needed? The last question also takes economic accessibility into account.

If the design is intangible, usability focuses on the immediate understandability and actual content. Using the example with the automated voice mail for the emergency medical service, this then means the information the caller gets from the machine and how it can be used. E.g. is the caller re-assured, and do you get alternatives in relation to waiting time compared to the severity of the inquiry?

The development and the development potential of the design focuses on the design’s materials/elements and durability. For material designs: How does it age – does it become more beautiful/ugly, or does it stay the same? Does it got out of style or is it timeless? Does it become more or less valuable in time? Is the design fragile? Do the materials and form match the function( s)? Does the design show potential for advances of its form and aesthetics?

For intangible designs development focuses on the elements, which are included in the design and e.g. if the solution is part of a bigger strategic picture and thus durable for a longer period of time. Again, taking the example of the automated voice mail for the emergency medical service, you could look at whether the voice mail is part of a strategic and communicative design created to secure that the citizens get the best instructions in the fastest way, and if there is potential for future developments e.g. by improving the voice mail to include various language alternatives.

How do you use the Form diagram?
The Form diagram includes a scale of 1-5 on each axis, where 1 is the weakest and 5 the strongest. Start by presenting the overall dimensions: Aesthetics and function. Hereafter as a warm up, the design teams can collaborate on using a Design to Improve Life example to discuss and evaluate the example’s form based on the four criteria: Expression, integrity, usability and development. Thus, the students evaluate the design in their design teams using all four criteria and make a mark on each axis, where they feel the design fits. The students can choose to connect the dots to see which figure the dots create and potentially use the figure to compare with the other teams’ figures. The larger the figure is, the “stronger” the design is in its Expression, Integrity, Usability and Development. The figures often vary and the students should discuss how to improve the design in the areas where they think it is weakest.

It is important that the students try to argue for why and how they have evaluated the design, and that they present their Form diagrams.

The other students should then give the design teams feedback and afterwards the students collaborate on developing an overview of how the design’s form can be improved to create an even stronger example of Design to Improve Life.

The following technique uses the Form diagram:
2. Winners’ Review

How is the Form diagram used in Sum Up?
We suggest that the diagram is used in connection with the design teams’ preparations for and completion of Sum Up in the Prototype phase.

The design teams examine and assess their different design solution ideas using the Form diagram and discuss how they can strengthen their ideas based on the four criteria. The diagram can also be useful as a priority-tool when the design teams are choosing which idea they want to further develop as their final design. The completed diagrams are presented and discussed in the following Sum Up.

The diagram is also useful in the final presentation of the Produce phase.