A Designer’s Opinion: Function Over Form

January 4th, 2010

I often see donor recognition creatively achieved but lacking in function. Form should always follow function! I recently came across the SEGD, Society for Environmental Graphic Design, 2009 Merit Award. It commemorated a sculptural donor recognition piece for St. Michael’s Grammar School in Melbourne, Australia executed by two local design firms, Nexus Designs and Fallon Image Design.

Function Over FormSt. Michael’s set specific goals for their designer: a “contemporary, timeless, and dynamic donor sculpture for its new building” while striving “to provide a donor recognition element sympathetic to the subtleties of the architecture, while recognizing the contributions of donors, encouraging future donors, and inspiring staff and students.” But did this design accomplish the goals/functions asked for in regard to the donor element? Yes, it is attractive, but what is accomplished for “encouraging future donors…inspiring” others?

St. Michael’s planned for future donors by making the stemmed leaves removable to add names as new donors were acquired, however it is only a temporary solution as they only planned for a total of 10 future gifts. It is unclear how the school plans to recognize those who give beyond what the capacity of this display will hold.

While the sculptural aspect of the display is quite lovely, without any title or descriptive element to speak to the audience, how would one know it is a donor recognition piece at all, honoring the act of giving? The names on the leaves appear quite small and are located well above the heads of the viewers. The presentation of these names does not lend itself to maximum exposure for the donors, nor does it effectively tell a story that may prompt future donors to give as well. The public may see this as simply an art element on campus, not as an opportunity to give to the school.

When I design donor recognition elements, “functionality” is most important. It is critical to create a display which functions as a communications tool, touting a successful partnership between the organization and its philanthropic community. It should create a vehicle for encouraging continued giving. “Form” follows the function of celebrating donors and telling a story, as well as designed to be appropriate to the surrounding architecture. Yet, this outcome focuses more on the form, the design, and does nothing to showcase proper function: the impact of donors and philanthropy on the organization.

Goals for both form and function for recognition elements should be clearly defined from the outset, then followed through for maximum exposure for your donors, as well as to create an environment for continued growth and giving. Having functionality and form coupled together successfully will leave a lasting legacy of giving for the organization.

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