Monday, February 11, 2013

Why you need both form AND function; Steven Reed vs. Rachael Ray

I know my strengths, and I know my weaknesses. When you talk about form vs. function, I'm pretty good on the function part, but perhaps not so good on the form part. Because I recognize this, I need to constantly remind myself to pay attention to form.

One could argue that function is all that is needed. If you convey the important information, it doesn't really matter if you've prettied it up or not.

I'm going to illustrate this by talking about something in which I am decidedly not an expert - cooking shows. (Although by the end of this illustration, perhaps I'm a better cooking expert than I thought.)

Let's take a look at two very similar cooking shows. Both cooks are in a kitchen. Both cooks are preparing a derivative of Mexican food. Both dishes serve a large number of people. Both cooking show segments last about three minutes.

However, there are several differences between the shows.

  • The first cooking show is targeted toward people who enjoy cooking and want to spend time in the kitchen. The second cooking show is targeted toward students at Weber State University, who presumably want to just make a meal and be done with it.
  • The first cooking show provides no information on the cost of the ingredients. The second cooking show provides specific information on this topic.

Now there are several other differences between the first and the second cooking shows.

For the moment, ignore the fact that the first cook, Rachael Ray, is using an oven and freshly prepared foods, and the second cook, Steven Weber, is heating canned food in a microwave.

Do you notice one other significant difference between the two?

Ray is able to speak in an engaging way. Reed, to put it kindly, is not an extremely riveting speaker.

Those of us who prefer function to form might think that this doesn't make a difference. But take a moment and imagine what it would sound like if Rachael Ray were making the chili and cheese nacho dip in the microwave. Ray could actually make it sound interesting. Here's what I think it would sound like:

Hey Weber Wildcats!

OK, so let's say that it's Saturday night and you're going to have a bunch of people together in the dorm or at the frat house. What are you gonna make? Well, if you're pressed for time, why don't you just make some chili cheese dip in the microwave?

Just open up the can of chili and put it in a microwave safe bowl - you see the bowls that are NOT warped from the heat? Those are the microwave safe bowls.

OK, and then you open the cheese dip, pop them both in the microwave...

Now I don't know if your Weber State professors have told you this, but when things come out the microwave, they're hot! Yes, I know that college students should know this, but after a few brewskis you sometimes forget.

OK, let's open the chips, and now you're ready to PARTY!

Imagine Ray smiling and saying all of this in her rapid speaking style, without the hemming and hawing, and with a smile on her face. She's conveying the same information that Steven Reed did - she isn't adding cilantro or deep frying the chips or anything like that. But even though she's conveying the same information (the function), she's doing it in a style (the form) that is much more riveting.

That is why Rachael Ray is on national television and Steven Reed is not. But Reed doesn't have to worry - he has a steady day job.
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