Form or Function?

Alec Issigonis, the father of the original Mini, apparently once said, “I am an engineer, not a stylist” and his products tended to favour function over form. 

My father was not an engineer, but he did like to know how things worked.  He had a good understanding of electronics and was very enthusiastic about the advantages of the ‘virtually solid state’ Sony Trinitron televisions. In the early 1970s he purchased a small colour Trinitron, at considerable expense, but that set outlasted countless televisions that came and went at the houses of our relatives and friends.

He was again exited when the digital watch was invented.  He was not keen on the early LED versions, but when LCD versions appeared, he spent a lot of money on an early, basic five-function digital watch. 

The manufacturer was an ‘up and coming’ Japanese firm, who could demand a high price only because of the cutting edge technology on offer.  He had that watch for a long time, but when it eventually broke he could buy the same functions for next to nothing and so that is what he did.  My point is that in quite an ‘Issigonis way’, he purchased these items based on function. 

Recently I have been looking at the watches that my fellow engineers wear. I think engineers tend to opt for analogue watches that are either aesthetically pleasing or with a high level of functionality.  Until recently I had an analogue watch with a digital display at the bottom.  I particularly liked it because it uses solar power, so it never needs a new battery.  It also synchronises itself with the local atomic clock every night so it never needs setting either. 

It could almost have been the only watch I ever needed.  Annoyingly, however, some of the parts that originally appeared to be stainless steel were only painted plastic and when the paint rubbed off it looked awful.  Last year I dropped some hints and my wife bought me a new watch for Christmas. 

In some ways similar to one it replaces it has an analogue display with digital at the bottom but it has a different array of functions.  It uses a novel system that uses the glass as a type of touch screen.  Although not linked to the atomic clock it doesn’t seem to have lost or gained a second in a nearly a year. 

I think it looks fantastic; very solid, quality materials, machined faces and an inverted LCD display which adds a subtle touch.  The functions, however, are not brilliant.  Despite the clever interface I find some aspects confusing.  Although in many ways it favours form over function, I think it looks like an engineer’s watch, and I love it!

Mine isn’t a watch that my dad would choose, but I like to think that – despite his preference for function over form – Mr Issigonis would have liked it.