Posts Tagged "requirements"

Let ‘Form Follow Function’

Posted on Jan 23, 2014 | 0 comments

Let ‘Form Follow Function’

There is a reason that your frisbee is shaped like a disc… And it isn’t just because the manufacturer sells more frisbees that way!  In this post we will explore some novel ways to apply this concept to building a software product that will not only save you time and energy during product development but also lead to better designs for your products.   Certainly, you have heard the phrase “form follows function,” right? Well, if you haven’t, the concept is very straightforward: the form or design of an object is largely influenced by the function or purpose it is meant to serve.  There are numerous ways to define what we mean by “form” or by “function” in a software context, so let’s start out with some common definitions for these things.  Generally speaking, the form of a software product can be defined as its user interface.  The function of a software product, therefore, may be defined as the benefits or features that it offers to its users.  Despite these definitions, the point I’m trying to make is different and more subtle than “let your user interface be dictated by your software product features”, so bear with me.  The subtlety lies in the definition we use for “follow,” among other things. Before we jump to the definition of “follow”, however, let’s talk for a moment about the way that typical software products are conceived.  In organizations large and small, software products often begin with the user interface or a description of the user interface.  Sketches and mock ups of interfaces usually help to create a better visual picture of what the software will do, and in particular, how its users will interact with it.  This is logical because people who use software are also the ones defining new products, and their window into the product is through its interface.  Just prior to creating UI sketches, we tend to talk about what a software product does.  “What does (or will) it do?” is usually the first question people will ask our software product visionaries.  The question we should be asking first and foremost is: “what problem does (or will) the software solve?” Until we can let go of the question “what does it do?” we will never be able to shift away from conceiving of software products apart from their user interfaces, but there are big benefits to this type of lateral thinking. Let’s return now to the definition of the term “follow.”  When originally conceived, the “form follows function” phrase was meant to define “follows” as “influenced by” or perhaps even “dictated by.”  This is not the definition that I want to use in the software product context.  Rather, let’s use the first definition we find in the dictionary: “to come after.”  This is more of a temporal definition that has to do with the logical ordering of things in time.  So, in our software product context… Let the user interface come after the benefits and features have been realized. This may either seem like nonsense to you or totally obvious, but it’s neither an impossible challenge nor a suggestion to build N-tier enterprise software starting with the data model layer and finishing with the UI layer.  Allow me to clarify with examples. Ultimately, your product is built by a software development team We need a way to define the product so that it can be built by the team.  If we were trying to answer the question “what does it do?” then we might define our product as a set of software “requirements,” such as “the software shall display a modal...

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