The early 20th Century saw the advent of a new type of architecture that was modernist and utilitarian and embodied the idea of “form follows function.” Up to this point in the history of architecture, the reverse was (mostly) true –function followed form. In other words, in the 1910’s and 1920’s, architects built their structures around the utilitarian idea of what the building was going to be used for.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a student of Louis Sullivan, who epitomized the new trend, but Wright ended up going in a different direction. He believed that Form and Function are one; neither is more important than the other.
Ahem. I’m being told this is a fundraising blog and I need to get to the point. Right.
Well, when evaluating fundraising databases, you need to take BOTH form and function into equal consideration. I speak with people who are shopping for new databases all day; sometimes they have a list of features (functionality) that they feel are important and other times they are looking to make a change from another database provider that had more functionality than anything else, but little usability.
Take a guess which group is more interested in the marriage between Form and Function.
Quantifying features and functionality is easy. Either the software has something or it doesn’t. Quantifying Form is a bit trickier. Will you enjoy working in that platform every day? Is it modern, or does it remind you of an updated spreadsheet? How intuitive does it appear to be? These are all subjective questions, whereas a list of functions is reasonably objective. For this reason, a lot of people I talk with ignore the Form of the databases they are evaluating.
Unfortunately, those same people often come back to me a year or two or three later (after their initial contracts are finished with those functional but form-lacking databases) and want to make a change. At that point, Form and Function are One in terms of evaluation importance. Sadly, many database companies get caught in the trap of building a product around functionality only. Some even keep adding functionality non-stop until the User Interface is so convoluted and confusing that the product, even with incredible amounts of functionality, becomes practically unusable.
The next time you are evaluating software generally, and a fundraising database specifically, consider adding in some requirements for usability. Yes, it will be more subjective, which is part of what makes it critical. If the company will not give you access to a sandbox system to try out before you commit, be wary. When you are exploring the sandbox system, focus not only on functions, but on how you feel about using the system. If the system strikes you as being difficult to navigate or understand, that needs to be factored into your overall evaluation. You can even think about asking your Salesperson to talk with the Product Manager or User Interface Engineer to hear about their Development Philosophy when creating new features. That conversation can be incredibly eye-opening!
The idea of function following form seems ludicrous when evaluating databases; likewise, function following form should be considered equally as ludicrous. If you don’t enjoy working in your database, you won’t work in it as much which will mean lost opportunities. Work hard to ensure that Form and Function are One.