Plato believed that this was an imperfect world.
But somewhere there existed perfection, what he called “Forms”.
He said there was a perfect Form for everything.
Identifying the Form starts with the commonality in a group of things.
For instance, what do a Shetland Pony, a Shire horse and an Arab Stallion have in common?
They’re all different versions of a horse.
But somewhere there exists the ideal concept (the Form) of the perfect horse.
The absolute perfection that all other horses can only aspire to.
The same with chairs, or trees, or circles, or the colour red.
Whatever group a thing falls into, there exists a perfect Form.
Nowadays we think that’s silly.
Because we know whatever Form we have, it’s never perfect.
It can be improved upon as circumstances change.
For instance, a Shetland Pony isn’t great for a horse race but an Arab Stallion is.
But an Arab Stallion isn’t great for teaching little children to ride, but a Shetland Pony is.
So: horses for courses.
But that’s a modern concept.
There isn’t a perfect Form for all occasions, there’s only ever a better answer to a problem.
As the problem changes so must the answer.
That’s why, the best guide to how good an answer is, is the Bauhaus maxim: Form Follows Function.
The operative word being ‘Follows’.
Anything’s final form must be the result of how well it does the job.
So Form FOLLOWS function.
So a crucial part of the job is defining the function.
Because if we get the function wrong, we must get the form wrong.
Which is why I’m always amazed at how little thought is given to the part on the brief that says: “What is the purpose of advertising?”
Surely this is the function any form must follow.
This IS the strategy.
But most so-called strategic thinkers quickly kneejerk past this to get onto the part that interests them: the brand, the insights.
Because for them, the only interesting part is the brand or the insights.
They simply want advertising that displays their insights.
They want to go straight to the Form.
Consequently we end with the advertising we have today, that everyone agrees is pretty dire.
Because we have it backwards: Function Follows Form.
Because we’re ignoring the function to get straight to the Form.
Because everyone is trying to go to Plato’s Perfect Forms, without worrying about the job to be done.
Advertising hasn’t just gone back to the 1950s, it’s gone back to ancient Greece.
We don’t solve problems, we are now advertising philosophers.
We make a pretty object without questioning the job it has to do.
We assume if the form is liked, that’s job done.
Function Follows Forms