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I recently came across an article that The Conversation put out almost a year ago.  I loved the article almost by the title alone, "Why some kids can't spell and why spelling tests won't help".  I'm a terrible speller—just awful!  So, I was looking forward to some great discovery about why.  Secretly I was hoping for some definitive proof that I am a genius because I can't spell.  As it turns out there was no really definitive answer to the question at all, but it is possible that I wasn't taught well.

I was taught phonics but not morphology (the study of form).  I was honestly blown away when I read the following excerpt.

Consider the author ... as they pondered which of the many plausible letters they could use for the sound they could hear in “res - uh - dent”.

If they had asked themselves first, “What does this word mean?” the answer would have been people who “reside”, and then they would have heard the answer to their phonological dilemma.

More than words

I had never considered how important it is to understand what forms the word and why those forms are important.  This is somewhat ironic because in design the form of things is extremely important!  In order to understand how to use a certain form, one must have an understanding of why that form or element is there.  One has to consider the function of the form (if you will).

Think about color.  Color is a form; it is completely aesthetic.  Color doesn't do anything; it has no use.  But it does serve a purpose; it does have function.  How so?  Though it has no use in any physical sense, the colors we use have many effects.  It can affect the overall user experience, it can affect readability, psychology and preconceived notions.  So, you have to know how to use the category of color in order to choose the specifics of color.

Let me answer your question with a question

The same goes for any piece of a website.  If you need to answer "What should the navigation look like?" ask yourself "What will the navigation need to do?"

  • Will the navigation need to direct people to a particular part of your website?
  • Will it need to just provide a general outline?
  • Will it need to help people search for things?
  • Are there things that it should actually not contain?
  • Is there information so important it needs to be less than a click away?

All of these questions of function go into answering the question of form.  There are a lot of great looking sites out there that never target what the website is supposed to do.  When we talk with clients, one of the first questions we ask is, "What do you need your website to do?"  Too few can answer this question.  Every small business owner needs to know the purpose of his website!

Arbitrate (-er) (-ary)

A lot of the aesthetics of a website are largely preference, but whose preference should you go with?  Here again, we must ask what is the purpose of this design element?  Is it to attract the client, express the owner or to meet industry standards and current trends?  In the end knowing the function of the form helps to answer so many of designs questions.