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Style versus function: How much do appearances really matter?

To encourage students to focus on what they do rather than on how they look (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to focus on what they do rather than on how they look (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).

Preparation and materials

  • Choose two readers (one boy and one girl).
  • You might like to show examples of Apple designs in the later parts of the assembly. If you don’t have any, other members of staff will.
  • Jesus’ words about whitewashed tombs are in Matthew 23.27–28.


  1. I’ve heard that a couple of students have joined the style council. They want to tell us all about it.

    Reader 1 (boy)  You should see these football boots I’ve bought. They’re red with a yellow stripe from the ankle to the toe. The soles are black and incorporate a new style of moulded studs based on the footpads of a cheetah. You can see that they’re something special even if you’re standing on the touchline. I’m bound to blow every other player off the pitch just as soon as I step out of the changing room.

    I’ve not tried them out yet because I don’t want to get them at all dirty.

    Reader 2 (girl)  When I turn up at the audition on Saturday I’m going to knock them dead. The dress I’ve bought is a one-off design. You can’t buy it in the shops. I’ve ordered it online. As you move, the colours change from blue to green to purple, so I’ll be able to go really wild with my make-up. I’m wondering whether or not to dye my hair to go with it. I could have blue, green and purple streaks.

    The dress hasn’t arrived yet so I haven’t tried it on. I assume it’s going to fit me. I wonder if I’ll have time to look at my script again.
  2. Many of you will possess a piece of iTechnology. It may be an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad or some variation on them. Most of you will also have come across the name of Steve Jobs, the driving force behind Apple, the company that produces iTechnology. Sadly, Steve died in 2012.

    However, as with many innovations, there’s another person in the background whose contribution to the development of these electronic gadgets has been just as important. And he’s a Brit!

    Jonathan Ive is the designer behind much of the technology that’s made Apple famous. Earlier this year his contribution was recognized when he was knighted for services to design and enterprise. He became Sir Jonathan Ive.
  3. But what exactly does a designer do and why has Jonathan’s approach been so distinctive?

    When you are asked to create a design in a technology lesson, the temptation is to go for the most original, the wildest, the wackiest design possible. We tend to think that design is about producing something that stands out from the crowd.

    Jonathan Ive’s philosophy is different: he’s always started from the viewpoint that Apple products are first of all tools and that their design should reflect this. In other words, function – what something does – is more important than style – how it looks.

    Jonathan Ive argues that if you find the functional solution, the one that is clearly the most obvious and appropriate, then something can become a design classic. In other words, if it works in the best possible way, then it will also look good and feel right.

    Most people seem to agree with that philosophy in connection with the Apple products they’ve used.
  4. It’s tempting to spend a lot of time on our appearance, on designing how we look. We want to project a certain image, to be cool, to be in control, to be ahead of the game. We also want to disguise what we feel are our imperfections. We understand that first impressions count for a lot in today’s society.

    That’s what the two students earlier were both doing.
  5. Jesus once described a group of people as being like whitewashed tombs. He said that from the outside they looked good, clean and attractive. The problem was that inside they contained stinking, rotting flesh. Appearances were deceptive.

    I wonder if that proves to be true in the case of our two students. Is (name) as skilful a footballer as his boots lead us to believe? Is (name) really going to get a part in the play?

    Sir Jonathan would suggest that we need to start by asking ourselves, ‘What are we here for? What is our function?’

    The footballer needs the skills to become part of a team in which all the team members play together to win matches. The actor needs to put across her acting skills in order to get the part.

    The boots and the dress are irrelevant if what’s inside doesn’t match up.

Time for reflection

What’s our function in this school community? What are we here for?

(Spend a little time expanding on the values shared within your school.)

Let’s focus on getting that part right and then I’m sure we’ll find we all become more attractive people.


Dear Lord,

thank you for the range of choice we have.

Thank you for the satisfaction we have in getting our look just right.

May we also spend time cultivating attractive and useful personalities

so that what we do matches our appearance.



‘Devil in disguise’ by Elvis Presley

Publication date: September 2012   (Vol.14 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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