top of page

Design Beyond Functionality: Form [also] Follows Emotion

In the realm of design, the phrase “form follows function” has long been a guiding principle. It emphasizes that the shape and structure of an object should align with its intended purpose. But what if we shift our focus from mere functionality to something deeper - the emotional resonance of design? Enter “form follows emotion.”

The Birth of “Form Follows Emotion”

This design approach was championed by the German-American designer Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frogdesign, during the 1980s. Esslinger critiqued the high-tech industry for creating products that looked like sterile technical instruments meant solely for mass consumption. He believed that design should evoke emotions, making the interaction with products a meaningful experience.

Apple and the Snow White Design

Esslinger’s vision found a perfect canvas when he collaborated with Apple in 1982. The result? The iconic Apple IIc, the first Apple computer in what became known as the “Snow White” design. This sleek, white, and minimalist aesthetic transformed the way people perceived technology. It wasn’t just about function; it was about how the design made users feel—curious, inspired, and connected.

But how did Esslinger achieve this design feat? With the help of Semiotics.

Semiotics: Decoding Symbols and Meanings

Semiotics is like our design toolkit—it helps us decode the language of symbols and signs that shape our visual world. Esslinger used this knowledge to create designs that resonated with people.

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation. It originated from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Saussure proposed a theory of semiotics as part of his broader structuralist approach to linguistics, suggesting that language is made up of signs consisting of a signifier (the form of the sign) and a signified (the concept it represents).

Building on Saussure's ideas, American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce further developed semiotics into a comprehensive theory, introducing concepts like the sign, the interpretant, and the object. Since then, semiotics has expanded beyond linguistics to encompass various fields, including philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and design, playing a crucial role in understanding communication and meaning in diverse contexts.

In the context of design, semiotics helps us understand how visual elements express ideas, emotions, and messages. Here are some key points:

  1. Symbols and Icons

  2. Cultural Significance

  3. Emotional Resonance

Symbols and Icons

Symbols and icons are powerful tools in communication, capable of transcending language barriers and conveying complex ideas with simplicity and immediacy. They tap into universal human experiences and emotions, making them instantly recognizable and relatable across cultures.

Take, for example, the ubiquitous "thumbs up" symbol, which universally signifies approval or agreement. Similarly, the iconic silhouette of a heart universally represents love and affection.

These symbols resonate deeply with people, evoking emotional responses that transcend linguistic and cultural differences. In design, leveraging symbols and icons effectively can enhance communication and create connections with audiences on a profound level.

Cultural Significance

Symbols carry cultural baggage, reflecting the values, beliefs, and traditions of the societies in which they originate. Understanding these cultural nuances is essential for effective design, as it ensures that symbols resonate authentically with diverse audiences.

For instance, the color red holds vastly different meanings in various cultures. In Chinese culture, red symbolizes luck, prosperity, and happiness, making it a prominent color in celebrations and festivals. In contrast, in Western cultures, red can signify danger, passion, or urgency, influencing its use in contexts such as traffic signals or warning signs.

A Time-Honored Tradition: Red Envelopes Exchanged in China.
In this captivating moment, the vibrant red envelopes symbolize blessings, prosperity, and cultural heritage.

By considering the cultural significance of symbols, designers can create designs that are culturally sensitive and resonate with their intended audience.

Emotional Resonance

Visual elements play a crucial role in building emotional resonance through branding.

Take the Nike "swoosh" logo, for instance. Its simple yet dynamic design symbolizes movement and progress, reflecting the brand's commitment to athleticism and achievement. When consumers see the swoosh, they don't just see a checkmark; they envision athletes pushing their limits, striving for greatness. This visual representation reinforces Nike's brand narrative of empowerment and determination.

Similarly, the Coca-Cola logo is more than just a scripted font; it's a visual cue that triggers a flood of emotions and memories. The iconic red and white color scheme, combined with the classic script, instantly transports consumers to moments of joy and togetherness. Whether it's sharing a Coke with friends or enjoying a refreshing drink on a hot summer day, the Coca-Cola logo serves as a visual reminder of these cherished experiences. Through consistent use and careful branding, Coca-Cola has woven a narrative of happiness and nostalgia into its visual identity, making it instantly recognizable and deeply resonant with consumers.

Example of Coca-Cola's branding

In both cases, the emotional resonance of these logos extends beyond their visual appeal. They serve as symbols of the values and narratives that these brands embody, reinforcing their messaging and forging strong connections with audiences.

Designing for the Heart and Mind

In the world of design, it's not just about what works - it's about what moves us.

Emotions are the silent architects of our experiences, shaping the way we interact with the world around us. When our designs resonate on a personal level, they have the power to touch lives, spark joy, and forge connections that endure beyond the confines of screens and pages.

Whether it's a logo, a website, or a brand identity, let's create something that speaks to who you are and what you stand for! Your story is waiting to be told through design. Are you ready to start?


bottom of page