Form and function

moma_contact_lens_caseA couple of weeks ago, I was at the MoMA design store in midtown Manhattan. I love that store since they have such innovative product designs across a spectrum of products.

I happened on this contact lens case and immediately fell in love. As someone who will likely have to wear contact lenses forever, the case is something I interact with every day. And contact lens cases are extraordinarily dull.

This case was so cute – bright, cheerful and shaped like eyes. Seeing it would brighten up my day for sure, so I bought it. Seven bucks. Fine. Most contact lens cases come free with solution or you get them from your doctor – seven dollars is therefore somewhat expensive for a case (even if it is not an expensive purchase in general – 1.5 Starbucks coffee!)

I went home and started using it. So cute… I did notice that since the base is colored, it is hard to see the lens floating in it, but I could live with that.

Then, last week, I needed to get my eyes examined. Knowing the doc would want to see me with my lenses on, I grabbed the case, planning to throw it in my bag. As soon as I picked it up and walked out of the bathroom, the fluid was sloshing over my palm. Huh. Weird. I grabbed a tissue and ran out of the door. Must have been an accident, right? No. Definitely not. By the time I got to the doc, the tissue was soaked and the lenses were in microscopic levels of liquid.

What is the purpose of a lens case? To keep the contacts in the solution. One presumes that the case should be movable while still fulfilling its goal for existence. This was a stunning failure. Thank god I found this out in a non-critical situation. What if I had traveled with these cases on a trip? It would have been a disaster.

I’m more than surprised that MoMA has these cases. Cute? Definitely. Filling the basic function? Absolutely not. And something that doesn’t work doesn’t deserve to be in the store.

Good design is where the form is exquisite while also meeting all the function requirements of the product. Incredible form with terrible function does not work for me1.

The same principle holds true in online design. Interaction design is the most critical aspect a website. If your site is super-pretty but a user can’t figure out how to get through the flow without falling out, there’s no point to it.

It always makes sense to start the question “What does the product need to accomplish”? In this case, it is to keep the contact lenses safe in the solution. In the case of an ecommerce site, it is to enable a frictionless transaction. Whatever the goal is, figure it out and make sure that there are no distractions along the way. Even if the site is ugly, if it enables the customer to fulfill her goal, it is infinitely better than having an pretty site that is hard to use.

The ideal solution, of course, is to have a product that can do both. Those are the products that deserve to be in MoMA’s design store.

 

UPDATE: Apparently I had a defective one. The new one I have has a seal that works. So, apologies to the MoMA and the designer. That said, the underlying point of the post holds – great design is when a product is exceptional at what it does with great design.


  1. For example, super-high heels are a completely failure in this regard and I refuse to wear them and suffer just because it makes me look better 

  • After all these years I have somehow accepted the unfortunate relation between cost and quality. It’s not always true because companies will sell their products at specific price points so that they earn the premium from people who can pay. Nevertheless for a wide majority of things this relation is true. It reminds me of a pair of screwdrivers I found for five bucks. They didnt work even once. aargh.
    PS: Do drop by on my website and tell me if you think its pretty-but-unusable design πŸ˜‰

  • Your post actually set me thinking on long-term usage of contact lenses! I’ve been using them on a regular basis for three years now and would like to for many more years..but I have had quite a few people tell me that long-term use increases the risk of eye infection(!)..causes excessive dryness..and blah,blah. Maybe it’s just another medical myth but it definitely has me a bit worried πŸ™

  • Shripriya

    @Priyank – True, there is a relation and I, for one, am okay with that within certain bounds. The key condition is that if you charge *anything* for a product, it better work. Actually, even if you don’t charge, but if you warrant to the customer that they should use it and depend on it, it better work.

    So, you should be offended that your screwdriver never worked. That’s ridiculous. What was the $5 for then?? The company should be ashamed.

    Once the product works, I am completely okay with a company charging more for a quality product where the form surpasses expectations. More power to them!

    Finally – your site was pretty and usable πŸ™‚ Congratulations.

    @miapan – I’ve used them for 15 years now. You do have to be a bit careful, but I find it worth it. If you are very worried, you could pay a premium and go for daily disposables. The risk of infection is all but eliminated.

  • Very well said. Each point!

    And BTW…awesome blog you got up here! πŸ™‚

  • cinthialoughnane

    This is a great post. I am glat that I finally can see something what I like.