Any student of architecture or engineering is probably familiar with the guiding principle that “form follows function.” This phrase, accredited to architect Louis Sullivan, implies that the function or intended use of an item (e.g., a building or a chair) must determine the form or design of the item. No matter how “pretty” a chair is, if its design prevents you from sitting in it, or sitting in it comfortably, then it has flunked the “form follows function” test.
The documents and processes used by school districts should follow this same rule of design. A document and the route by which it is processed should be designed to be useful, efficient and user-friendly. If any one of these three elements is missing, then the function of the document is impaired by its design. Let’s take a look at each of these three elements.
In order to be useful, a document must be designed and processed in a way that accomplishes what a school district needs accomplished. For example, a transportation request that doesn’t include all the information needed by an administrator to decide if the request is appropriate is not useful to the school. Or, if such a request does not get routed to the administrator who is to make the decision on the request, again, the document is not useful. It may be a great-looking “form,” but it does not fulfill its intended function.
A document’s efficiency can be measured by whether it can be processed in minimal time with maximum relevant information included in the document. The less information that the preparer has to add to the document, the quicker it can be on its way. This efficiency can be increased dramatically with automated forms that include pre-populated fields, drop down features, calendars, auto-calculations for mathematical and financial data and links to attachments or related information. An automated purchase request that already includes the name of the teacher making the request, provides the name and address of the vendor and calculates the total cost of the purchase, including shipping, passes the efficiency test in a way a paper document or pdf never can.
Finally, a document must lead the user through it without the need for extensive training or repeated requests for instructions on how to complete the document. Automated forms can be developed from best practices experience based on the users’ input, not just the developers. No matter how well-designed a document is, if its ultimate user doesn’t understand how to complete it, then it is a failure – its form has failed to comport to its function. Only automated documents and automated processes permit the flexibility to design user-friendly documents that can be easily re-configured if better practices arise.
At Ed Automate, we are committed to the concept that a document’s function will always take precedence over its form. Every document and every process we develop is based on the needs and requirements of the school district that will use it. We work with the people who actually process school district documents to determine the best practices for handling them. That is why every process we implement for a school will be useful, efficient and user-friendly. We may not design buildings like Louis Sullivan, but we do develop the automated processes that will make your buildings work better.