Ask Design Mom: Form Versus Function

August 4, 2011

As a designer and a mother, would you say many of your household purchasing decisions, even for basic necessities (children’s socks, toaster, blender, sippy cups) are often chosen for their beauty of design? Or are you purely practical and just have your husband pick up what’s needed or grab the first thing you see? Sometimes design sense is so much a part of one that it becomes part of one’s choices that others don’t even think about. Thanks! — wordplayhouse™

What a fun question! I would say, yes, pretty much all of my household purchasing decisions are chosen for their beauty of design. Definitely. And if something ends up in my house that was purchased purely for practical reasons, it will likely drive me crazy. Currently, we have a fly swatter that was picked up at the checkout stand on the spur of the moment. We needed a fly swatter, but this one is so ugly that it makes me mad every time I see it. : )

But it’s not all about aesthetics. Really, when I search for “beauty of design” I’m looking for something that works well and looks good too. For example, I love Salt Water Sandals for children. My kids think they’re comfortable, they last forever and look great. They’re designed well functionally and they’re designed well visually too. Function + Form.

That said, sometimes I can’t resist a purchase that’s more aesthetic than practical. Have you seen the 3 new styles of Joy Folie shoes? They’re clearly not made for puddle jumping, but they’re pretty darn irresistible and would be a fun splurge.

What about you, Dear Readers? Are you driven by practical decisions or by visual decisions? Or both?

P.S. — Joy Folie wrote in. They’re offering $10 off a pair with the code DESIGNMOM for the next 3 days. Dibs on a pair of booties!

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bri (like the cheese) August 4, 2011 at 6:52 am

!!!Thank you thank you thank you!!!
I came across Joy Folie shoes months ago – perhaps by way of your blog? – and could not for the life of me track them down again. My daughter is going to be a flower girl in her uncle’s wedding in November and I wanted so badly for her to have some of their shoes to wear. Yay!


2 Design Mom August 4, 2011 at 7:09 am

Oh good! Joy Folie shoes are perfect for weddings.


3 Bri (like the cheese) August 4, 2011 at 7:24 am

Oh dear – it appears they only have three styles available right now because of the manufacturing change-over. I am disappointed that they are changing to rigid soles. They are *the* most beautiful toddler shoes I have ever seen, but like we are discussing here, a crucial part of their smart design (in my opinion) was their soft soles for growing feet. Now I just don’t know….


4 Karyl August 4, 2011 at 7:07 am

Life is too short, I try to surround myself with beautiful things. And if they’re practical/comfortable too, all the better :-) I fell in love with a beautiful, round Crate and Barrel table (similar to the Pearse style but in natural color), a white kitchen island, an apple green ottoman and apple green and white dishes (Hampton), as well as green, round, FLOR rugs and I debated forever if I should get them. Finally, I closed my eyes and splurged a little at a time (for me) and everytime I look at them as well as special candelabras and wall candle holders I had custom made, I feel happy. I also now love the new Crocs line of shoes for women–they look so good and are super comfy to boot. Love some of Lucky Brand’s chunky jewelry, some of The Limited’s jewelry and dresses, some Forever 21 maxi dresses, and thanks to a reader comment on this blog, am currently loving some styles of clothing from 1963 Canvas Land’s End. All beautiful and practical things :-)


5 Design Mom August 4, 2011 at 7:09 am

Yay for beautiful + practical!


6 Jody Nebesnik August 4, 2011 at 7:12 am

I agree that it’s wonderful to be surrounded by beautiful things. But if I made a purchase based only on aesthetics and then it didn’t work, I would regret it. So my answer is BOTH! Form and function matter in our house.


7 Janan W August 4, 2011 at 7:16 am

Both, weighted by aesthetics. I can relate to the check-out counter fly swatter…I have one too. My dog started chewing on it and I’m glad cause that means soon I can get a new one without “wasting” the current one! lol


8 Caryn August 4, 2011 at 7:20 am

My husband and I are both graphic designers and very much love beautifully designed things. When things are hyper-functional and minimalist and beautiful… we’re goners. I wish our budget could afford more of things we love, but we try to be practical and we love sites like that feature designer products at lower prices. I also love Pinterest so I can feel some ownership of the item by pinning it even if I’ll never be able to buy it! :)


9 Ms. Amy August 4, 2011 at 7:47 am

The older I get, the more frequently I find myself choosing to seek out items that are a good balance of aesthetics & practicality. I know exactly what you mean about buying a functional item then being mad at it every time you look at it because it is so ugly. I’d rather wait and find the perfect cup/shower curtain/red flats/clock than just “settle”. Of course, I am also the woman who just bought a pure white eyelet dress for a 7 year old, so what do I know?


10 ajbc August 4, 2011 at 9:02 am

I tend not to buy very much at all, but when I do, it’s “practical.” Practicality to me means that it 1) does the job that it is intended to do well (which almost naturally brings some kind of beauty, or conversely, if the intent is beauty than a beautiful thing is inherently functional) and 2) I’ll actually use it. The second point also allows me to justify my aesthetic preferences…if it’s so ugly I’ll never use it, then what’s the point of having it?


11 Victoria August 4, 2011 at 9:04 am

I was so gutted when I checked out the Sabre Cuffed Bootie that they are kids sizes! I so wanted them for myself! x


12 se7en August 4, 2011 at 9:13 am

I would much rather go without something than have something ugly… I remember when we were first married and my mother in law trying to get rid of her “plastic vertical office blinds” for our old victorian beach cottage – G.A.G… she had to stay with us and was furious we had no “window treatments…” Nothing between us and the rest of the world except the ocean!!! She was of the school that beggars can’t be choosers”… I am of the school that says “love it or leave it.”


13 Anneliese August 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I am into aesthetics to a fault I’m afraid! When I bought my first house (in my mid-twenties to be fair) I replaced the roof because it was the wrong color! I have matured since and am doing better at striking the balance. But if it’s a choice between something that works better or something that looks better but still works–I’m going for the good looks! I too love Saltwater Sandals and I love love my new UppaBaby stroller! Perfect form+function example. I love Land’s End childrens clothing, and especially swim suits, for the same reason. Thank goodness there are brands that give us both!


14 Maria McClure August 4, 2011 at 2:22 pm

ha ha ha … must laugh about the fly swatter because when we moved into our home 8 years ago I found that the previous owners had left one behind. It’s got an olive green handle and a sort of translucent swatting surface that looks like it might glow in the dark. I told myself that I’d be replacing it as soon as possible, but did not actually toss it. That summer, it became clear that this was no ordinary fly swatter. I probably get 9 out of every 10 flies I go after – on the first try!! It ain’t pretty, but it works and NOBODY is allowed to malign it. :)


15 Diane @ kitchen-dreams August 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm

ooohhhh those booties. i wish they were adult sizes! with great arch support! :)
loving the question and answers.


16 Ana August 4, 2011 at 3:24 pm

As a Designer and also a super practically minded person I’m all about making my fashions both beautiful AND practical – and versatile too. Versatility in functionality and look. Because let’s face it, I’m also a mother and I’m DEMANDING :D


17 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay August 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Besides Design Mom one of my favorite blogs is by Dominique Browning ( love her books too). I just got off of her site where she was talking about this very question! She has been rediscovering the Shakers and has lovely photos and ponders the design/function achieved by this very interesting group of people. I love it when I get to think of the same question from different perspectives.

Dominique and Gabrielle are two women for whom I give thanks every day.


18 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay August 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Dominique’s blog is


19 stacy August 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I am a do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do kind of person. I WANT to be the person who only buys beautiful, well-designed, well-crafted things for the house, the kids, for me…. but truth be told, life gets in the way. I have to shop at Target because I need a last minute gift, or beacuse they are the only store open at 8am.

I try to buy the most aesthetically pleasing things I can find within my budget, even if they are made in China or require a allen wrench to construct. I find that I don’t always have the ability to wait – especially when it comes to the kiddos.

I find I compromise a lot. I hope that will change as our kids get older. I would like to model for them that well-crafted things are worth the wait, and are built to last. I believe it to be true, but I can’t always practice what I preach.


20 wordplayhouse™ August 4, 2011 at 6:41 pm

I’d rather find the functional, well-designed/beautiful water bottle/toaster oven/blender/measuring cups/whatever…and do without until I find it than settle for something ugly I have to use/look at every day. I am surrounded by pretty, useful things (a minimalist I am pared down to what I use and need only). I see here a few share a similar sentiment, at least some sometimes and others most of the time.

Thanks so much for choosing and answering my question—


21 Linnea August 5, 2011 at 7:10 am

ah! beautiful things. If I had the money, I would get rid of all my purely functional things (furniture I hate, etc.) and exchange them for things that are beautiful. Alas! Being a grad student doesn’t allow for that…not completely, anyway! I am slowly replacing my ugly plastic food storage with vintage Pyrex, and my tablecloths with lovely handmade ones.


22 Janet @ Ordinary Mom August 6, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I laughed out loud when I read this because I too have a fly swatter in our kitchen (hanging close at hand) that drives me nuts when I look at it. It’s orange. Not a colour I gravitate to. I have actually spent time researching a better looking option but worry that nice metal vintage ones would destroy our walls. If only you could buy ones that were just white. White, clear, invisible??? ;)


23 Keira Anderson August 8, 2011 at 5:51 pm

My family is all about functionality where I like things that are pretty, and serve a purpose. Even if it is slightly more expensive, it can be worth it to have a house full of beautiful and simple things.

I had salt water sandals when I was a kid! I had really long, skinny feet that shoes liked to rub the wrong way and I got a lot of blisters, especially from sandals. The one exception was salt water sandals. I loved them and had to buy a new pair every year for my growing feet. :)


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