Pressure Switch Form Follows Function

Editor: Dr. Jörg Kempf

Attractive design is the rule in consumer goods, but in most industrial products it still plays a subordinate role. As a result, many products do not look at all in a way that matches their “all new” performance. The example of the new PSD-30 pressure switch from Wika illustrates the product design cycle, and shows that good design and high functionality need not contradict one another; instead, form follows function.

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The product must meet the demands of the target application, so exact knowledge of the application and the user environment is vital. (Pictures: Wika)
The product must meet the demands of the target application, so exact knowledge of the application and the user environment is vital. (Pictures: Wika)

In the German language the word “design” has a fairly narrow meaning: the conscious design of the look of things. In English, on the other hand, “design” applies to both functional construction and external appearance. This linguistic separation of external appearance and internal function is still present in the minds of many design departments in industry. The result is a complete misunderstanding of the maxim coined by architects of the Modernist school: “form follows function”.

“Form follows function” does not imply that external design is subordinate to the functional aspects of the product. Rather, it says that external design is a logical consequence of function, and that the two concepts are inseparable. “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works,” says Steve Jobs, Apple Computer. In the real world, many engineers still equate conscious attention to aesthetics with unnecessary trimmings, decoration, and cost. As a result, only in few industrial companies is teamwork between industrial designers and design agencies a normal part of every development process. But the situation is changing slowly, as people in industry realize that good design is nothing less but the translation of functional specifications. When it expresses and supports functionality, design becomes a selling point.

Against the barricades

A lasting change in attitudes to industrial design must begin with a cultural change in product management, where all products have their cradle. Especially in business-to-business dealings, purchasing is often regarded as a purely rational decision, satisfying functional needs at the best possible price. But each purchasing decision, even when it is highly formalized, also involves emotions and the weighing of opportunities and risks.

Important questions to do with trust and confidence are: How reliable is the supplier? How will they react if demands change? How exacting are they in terms of quality? The same applies when evaluating the performance of a product. In addition to the purely formal measures, such as speed or accuracy, confidence in the product will play a part.