When you buy something to perform a function, you want it to work well. Though something's immediate aesthetic might be what peaks your interest, it’s functionality will keep you coming back. So it’s important that neither side of the equation: form or function, is ignored. If something is unattractive, you probably won’t pick it up in the first place, but if it doesn’t work it becomes invisible in another way.
Good products arise when designers use the philosophy that form follows function. This way of thinking and designing has become a hallmark of modern society, emerging alongside the discovery and development of modern materials and technology.
Advancements in technology have allowed for construction never before possible with such materials as steel, concrete and glass. Material science allows designers to create lighter, smoother, more ecologically friendly substances that are more functional than their antiquated counterparts.
One incredible example is the process of turning old car windshields into a vegan leather that looks and feels just like the real thing. In this process PVB, a substance used to coat and laminate glass, is separated from an old windshield and purified. It is then transformed into a usable leather-like material that has the same subtle, smooth qualities as the real thing. New inventions like this allow companies to respond to consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products while continuing to use a material that performs best for the intended function.
With modern materials came industrialization and a shift in everyday life. From Baroque to Bauhaus, society began to shed ornate and unnecessary details (like vivid painted ceilings) and replaced them with simple, rational and functional designs that place the importance on the user (not some religious icon).
As society progresses we have become more secular, individualist and industry focused, moving away from the more religious nature of the past. What emerges is design philosophy that is focused on the person and the everyday, not a deity or divinity. This is directly reflected in the main methodology of quality modern design: user experience.
As we move through the world we get used to things quickly. The noisy street that used to bother you isn’t really noticeable anymore. The same goes for products. People quickly become accustomed to the way their products perform. Sometimes the design of any everyday product will go unchanged for decades - its functionality so banal that we stop questioning its form.
Take the wallet for example. For years almost all wallets have maintained the same design: a bulky bifold with loads of pockets, maybe a zipper or two, just barely small enough to fit in your back pocket. The form seems to get the job done well enough, but perhaps this is because we’re so used to it.
The designers at Ekster decided to question the everyday wallet to see where it was underperforming. They ended up noticing that there were several problems with the classic wallet. It wastes time because of its bulky design, it leads to carrying around things you don’t need like old receipts and used gift cards, and it doesn’t offer the protection it deserves.
By observing human behavior, they identified the main functions that a wallet should serve. A wallet needs to carry your money and cards, but do it in a way that reflects your everyday transactions. Old wallets reflect an importance of cash over cards, but that’s no longer the case.
Instead of creating a wallet with tight, tough to access card slots and a huge, cluttered cash pocket, Ekster invented their patented card access mechanism. At the click of button, cards are ejected from the cardholder in a fan-like motion and just as easily stored. The wallet is also designed to be extremely thin while offering huge carry capacity, so it fits better into normal pockets and doesn’t risk falling out.
By questioning the everyday and intervening where necessary, good design puts in place a form that follows the function of the product.
Little by little we are integrating technology into our everyday lives, from doorbells with video capabilities to fridges that tell you when you’re low on milk. Sometimes technology is integrated too early, and it doesn’t have the intended effect. But other times it is overlooked and not introduced early enough.
One of the main problems Ekster noticed with classical wallets is the lack of useful technology to offer greater protection. For something that carries around your personal information and funds, it’s remarkable that we continue to put our trust in a simple piece of leather. The design team at Ekster noticed this and decided to make some necessary tweaks.
First, wallets should prevent identity and credit card theft. By making all of their wallets RFID-protected, Ekster eliminates the possibility of a card's information being stolen through skimming.
Second, wallets should be easier to find and harder to lose. For this problem, Ekster has come up with a Tracker Card which makes any wallet virtually impossible to lose. It uses Global Tracking Networks and pairs with voice-activated assistants like Siri or Alexa to add a necessary level of security to your most valuable accessory. This ingenious technology can end up saving you hundreds.
Like a conversation between old and new, Ekster experiments with how technology can inform, improve and evolve our daily lives and everyday belongings.
The world is changing at a faster rate than ever before, and designers not only have to satisfy the needs of the moment but also project to the needs of the (near) future. Irreplaceable in this process is the human factor and an appreciation for the everyday. Good designers take the time to notice, appreciate and evaluate all the things that we don’t always notice and find out how to make them better.