Form Typology: Function Based Forms

Products are shaped based on their pragmatic functions (purpose) and/or their symbolic functions (meaning). Form typology can be grouped under four categories based on form’s relation to its function, which are Additive, Integrative, Integral and Sculptural forms.

Additive forms
are the characteristic forms that keep their autonomy, of which functions and purposes could be easily identified. Maintenance and manufacturing is one of the advantages that additive forms have. Since each functional part can be clearly defined it will be easier to repair or upgrade the product. Morphological charts are generally effective tools to generate additive forms.

WebKonstantin Grcic uses additive forms in his designs where user can easily identify functional areas. Handle, shade and other functional areas can be easily identified in his Mayday Lamp design (left)

Integrative forms are characteristic forms that are blended together. Forms and their functions transit smoothly from one another. It is still possible to define the functions of each form, although not as clearly as additive forms. These uninterrupted surface transitions and form continuity prevents visual distractions caused by different functional parts and helps perceiving the object as a whole.

In Integral forms, form is used for more than one purpose; therefore their functions cannot be clearly identified. Because of these overlapping functional areas, user cannot define where the functional areas start and finish. These superforms create more unified appearance. However, since each part tries to do more than one, there may be some compromises in terms of functionality.

WebNaoto Fukasawa, in his LCD television (left) combines the functions of casing for the inner components and leg by using an integral form. Ron Arad’s Little Albert Chair (right) combines backrest, handle, ventilation parts into one form, while uniting seating and leg functions into another. 

In contrast to Additive, Integrative and Integral forms, Sculptural forms have no clear relation between its form and pragmatic functions. In other words, sculptural forms are the forms where form does not follow function; the form is used for mainly for its meaning rather than its function. Kitsch and stylistic products could be placed under this category.

Konstantin Grcic, Ross Lovegrove, Jasper Morrison and many other designers use same form typologies consistently throughout their product series. This consistent use of form typology does not only exist throughout their product but also within each product itself. Inconsistent use of form typology is likely to cause visual disturbance in designs.

Bürdek, B. E., 2005. “Design: The History, Theory and Practice of Product Design”, pp. 302 , Birkhäuser-Publishers for Architecture, Basel.