Never put form over function. Why? Because it's crucial that visitors actually be able to USE your site. Everything you do must be designed to be as easy for the visitor to understand as possible. Everything should be functional first.
If you put form before function, you sacrifice your visitor's best interest for your own preferences. By definition, putting form over function means you sacrifice function--you make it harder to perform whatever task is supposed to be performed. You give up ease of use or simplicity in order to make it look nicer. Basically, you wind up with a lot of icing and no cake.
Don't get me wrong--form often accentuates function, just like icing accentuates a cake. Something that is visually pleasing often increases the usability by making it more attractive or by using visual elements to increase understanding. Creative design can often be used to make a task easier to perform. It can entice the visitor to take whatever action you want them to take.
However, on the web, there are frequently contests between form and function. Designers make choices between whether to make something look nicer or make it simpler and easier to use. For example, these are common ways of sacrificing function:
Using an uncommon style of links that makes it hard to recognize the links.
Putting a textured background behind the copy, even though it will make the text harder to read.
Choosing a font color that doesn't have enough contrast with the background color.
Using a font face that is difficult to read.
Using an uncommon name for a common link. For example, "Talk" instead of "Contact us".
Placing elements in unexpected places. Like putting the logo on the right side of the page or placing the main navigation along the bottom of the design.
Using a splash page on the site because it looks neat, even though it keeps visitors from getting to the real information in the site.
Using a lot of fancy images that make the page load more slowly.
Opting for a totally graphical design with no copy on the main page. Regardless of the fact that visitors won't have a clue what the business is all about until they get further into the site.
These are all examples of choosing form over function. Unfortunately, if your design looks great but is hard to figure out, your visitors will be gone. They don't come to your site to admire the looks; they come to use the site--to find information or to accomplish a task. Anything you do to stand in their way is a no-no.
Most of the time, a visitor's attention span is about as long as snake fur. They have no patience. If you complicate their lives, they're outta here. Other sites are ready and waiting to meet their needs, so there is no reason they should struggle through your site. If you opt for form over function, you're likely to opt yourself right out of sales. Not good.
When you're designing your website, don't think about looks first. Always make function a priority. Think about what's going to be easiest for your visitors to use and understand. Then create an attractive presentation to accentuate it.
About The Author
Jamie Kiley creates powerful and engaging websites that make sure YOUR company gets noticed. Visit www.kianta.com.