Functional diagrams are crucial to the design process because they can (1) establish a sound functional basis for the design solution, (2) encourage the designer to remain general about the appearance of the design, (3) encourage the designer to explore alter­natives, and (4) provide opportunities for the designer to go beyond preconceived ideas.

Establishing a Sound Functional Basis

A functional diagram that has been carefully thought out will provide a proper basis for the remaining design phases. The importance of this phase cannot be overstressed. Decisions made about a design at this early stage are apt to be carried throughout the remainder of the design process. Thus, it is critical that decisions made during this step be sound ones. If they are not, they will be continually revealed in later phases of the design project. Keep in mind that the appearance of a design as reflected in form, materials, and material patterns cannot overcome functional deficiencies. A design must first and foremost have a solid functional foundation.

Staying General

One of the most common faults of inexperienced designers is the inclination to begin a design project by drawing forms and design elements in the plan that are too specific (Figure 8—1). Novice designers frequently make the design look “real” as quickly as pos­sible. For example, the edges of terraces, decks, walls, and planting beds are much too often given a highly defined form too quickly without sufficient thought toward the functions. Similarly, materials and their patterns are often drawn in too much detail

without proper understanding of their location or intended function. Too much detail too soon is apt to cause the designer to overlook underlying functional relationships.

Another reason for studying a design in a general fashion before specifics are con­sidered is the factor of time. Because changes are inevitable during the process of de­sign, being too specific too soon will result in time-consuming changes made in later design phases. The more detailed a plan is, the more time it takes to redraw it when changes need to be made. Certainly all phases of design involve changes. But in the ini­tial phases, general functional organization can change rather quickly and effortlessly when drawn appropriately with the graphic language of functional diagrams.