Post 554  by Gautam Shah


Designs are representations of ‘themes with abstract content’ at one level and ‘intentions of functional nature’ at another level. As a theme, designs consist abstracted forms or motifs. The motif is an object or experience appearing several times in a peculiar context, or on its own in a changing scenario. It may appear as a consistent pattern or organization in temporal or spatial scale. Motifs or patterns enable us to enact, depict, narrate an objective. A motif can be structured pattern, imagery, phones, musical element or scale, gesture or posture, used to express a concept or reinforce it. In later case the motif serves the purpose of a metaphor as an abstract representation of something.


Art Nouveau Doors in France Boulevard du Montparnasse Wikipedia image by Dinkum

Designs, also represent intentions for a future object or happening. The functional nature of the object or happening, are too large in scale and long lasting, and cannot be expressed except in some surrogate form. The form allows condensation, comprehension, manipulation within a sensorial reach capacity. All aspects of design intentions cannot be transformed as a surrogate for several reasons. The surrogate manifests on, media of some type, which has limitations of size, formatting technology, scale of detail, retention and recovery, temporal variations, etc. These forces, one to adopt metaphoric forms for expressions. For example colours become monochrome, solids and surfaces presented through edges as lines, graphics for cut section views, frames in time sequences or cuts for zones in space.


Story telling through imagery and metaphors -Pabuji no Pat, Rajasthan India Wikipedia image MicheleLovesArt

Metaphor establishes an ephemeral link between a real and unreal things or between two unreal things. So a relationship between a real object and its representation is metaphoric. The design intentions for a functional object or happening as a surrogate relies heavily on things ‘unsaid’. People who read design for the first time never make a ‘head or tail’ of it. But cues to the represented reality are strong enough to cause the learning. Most designers experience this, and so make design presentations in many different formats, such as plans, elevations, isometric or perspective views, models, renderings with shadows etc. These act as the metaphors for metaphors, but cumulatively transmit the idea of design. Here metaphoric design representation is an analogical bridge to something that is far away. Somewhere a comparison, association, slight familiarity is established, and the design is justified and accepted.


Door metaphor for change -Flickr image by Hartwig HKD

 Designers use metaphors:

1 to establish a cognitive link to the intended environment of the design object or happening.

2 to project a unitized organization from the diverse components or situations.

3 to envision a unitary concept overriding distributed and differing elements of the design.

4 to imply the absentee elements and their relationships with a real entity.

5 to ascribe a sensorial experience to environmental or spatial conditions.


Surfing a metaphor used in Internet -Wikipedia image by (original) Megan L. Stiner

Metaphors occur in design formation because one is dealing with many different stack holders, each of which has different level of knowledgeability, cultural background and relevance to design process. First design presentations are highly personal expressions, which are abstract and unstructured entities. In initial stages the nature and content of design are formative not amenable to nominal design language. So the only recourse is to ‘sing’ about it. ‘Singing’ allows literary intonation of feelings, and both of these have been with us for a long time, and so familiar.


“Vimaan” architecture (light-airy like an aeroplane) Galleries at Rani ki Vav (step well) Wikipedia image by Mv.shah

Design metaphors are often described as concept or idea, but design metaphors rely on real forms and experiences. The forms and experiences lying in subconsciousness, ride on to some justifiable precept. A “very large hall” as a description is reinforced with degree intonation, becomes a metaphor. Descriptions like “vast expanse of airy space”, “bright open rooms”, “presence in the neighbourhood”, are not metaphoric unless reinforced with a real object or experience. Some situations however, have accepted relationships, like cool (mountain), breezy (sea shore), dark (night), spooky (sound-echoes). In design to endow the intended experience metaphors accompany, literal symbols (including motifs, patterns), similes, material expressions, architectonic elements, established spatial forms, time scheduling the experience (delaying, accelerating, enhancing) and sensorial exposure and reach.


Runestone Uppland Sweden Wikipedia image by Berig

Motifs and patterns have inherent meaning and order, and these are used as a superlative or emblematic expressions. At this level it can serve few intentions of a metaphor. But such usage requires an ethnic maturity and associations with other objects and expressions.


Museum of Old and New Art -Nolan snake painting of motifs Wikipedia image jeffowenphotos