Form ever follows . . .

“Form ever follows function” is a phrase often tossed around by graphic designers, architects, and industrial designers. It means that if an object performs a certain function, its design must support that function to the fullest extent possible. If a designer doesn’t understand the function of what they’re designing, they make wrong decisions about the form.

For a clear example of this failure to understand function, look no further than the restroom door at any trendy restaurant, bar, or club in town. When it comes to communicating whether a bathroom is for women or men, a simple sign that says “Men” and “Women” won’t do. Restaurant owners (or designers) want their restroom signs to make a statement, to say “Hey, in addition to making the best fish tacos in the city, we know about art.”

Others may simply want their bathroom door signs to mirror the artwork in their restaurant or to fit in with the overall theme of establishment. Understandable, given the money that they likely spent on said artwork and theme.

What I don’t understand is why you would want art to get in the way of communicating a very vital piece of information. If your customers have an urgent need (or maybe they’ve just had to much to drink) do you really want them to stop and think about which door to go through? Shouldn’t this information be as clear as possible?

Below are some examples of confusing restroom signs from the Austin area, along with some signs that do a great job communicating which restroom is which.

Ambiguous, perhaps

What about men with shapely buns?

It's the baseball cap . . .

I went to high school with a guy who looked exactly like this



No question on this one

Or this one

Form and function

and more function

2 Responses to “Form ever follows . . .”

  1. A reader says:

    I have had to stop and think about which restroom to use.
    Mexican restaurants are notorious.I’ve seem ‘Squatter’ and ‘Standers’.
    Great topic!

    • laurajane says:

      Thanks. Certain situations just scream for clear communication . . . and a clean restroom.