MOTIF PATTERN and DESIGN -Part 2 -Issues of Design 37

Post 735 -by Gautam Shah


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A Design comes into being with the realization of the order that forms the composition. Architectural drawings are not designs, but media for representation. A design is the comprehensive experience of sensorial, emotional or functional nature that one derives from an object. Some designs are simplistic that their experience is holistic.

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A Holistic composition itself, may present as a single entity. Such exploits are not common. Holistic compositions are ‘superfluous’ with extraneous body and no dissect-able content. Holistic compositions are too personal. It is not easy to convey to others, except as the sensorial experience (visual, aural, tactile, olfactory or taste). A Holistic feel does not convey or have any utilitarian purpose. The creator of the holistic entity may experience the design-order conceptually (mentally or schematically), but for others, to perceive that feel, it must wait for the actualization. Private creations tend to have holistic ideation, like an abstract thing or a sculpture without any capacity to convey a meaning.

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Formal Designs are very large and complex organizations, serving many functions. A formal design serves functional, technological and, stylish relevance, besides being sited to a place. The conception of a comprehensive structure serving all these is not possible within a practicable period. The exigency of solution achievement does not allow it. The urgency derives from the fact that some other slightly superior solution can outpace it. In the circumstances, a design remains a workable entity, an assembly, where at any given moment ‘some sections may work well, and others remain time-space compromises’.

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Actualized designs have size, shape and other sensorial attributes. The composition in an actualized design emerges through these basic characteristics. But most importantly actualized designs need to confirm to some compulsions. Without this, a design remains a defunct sculpted form, or an assembly of materials.

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At Design ideation level, a solution may seem comprehensive and so nearly holistic. There, however, are some compulsions which must be considered before a design actualizes.

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1. A complex design entity is conceived with many systems, some of which are fairly independent, but most others are not only mutually dependent, but spatially convergent.
2 The convergence also occurs due to the few nodes that connect various systems to the outside resources and systems.
3 A design encounters directional solar and other environmental elements, and these have zonal identity.
4 A design creation to be stable and secure must affirm to natural forces like gravity and structural integrity.
5 A design, where possible will be conceived of replaceable elements that require fitment facilities and protocols. The replaceable elements, fitment facilities and protocols, need to be universal and modular which force continuance of traditional or time-tested things, rather than new ones. A design emerges as a dilemma between old and new things.


Cubists, Modernists and later Deconstructivists tried to take a reverse route to reach the state of ‘abstraction’. They tried to reach a state of Holism by elimination. To this end, attempts were made to ‘eliminate’ (often just cover-up, hide or dis-regard) ‘what was plausible’. It is not possible to escape the reality and create any thing unimaginable.

Design documented schemes and actualized entities reveal Patterns, at three levels, as holistic, sectional or part identity. The revelation of a pattern is related to the scale of the design. Design documented schemes are scaled to manage and manipulate the composition, whereas, actualized designs are experienced in varied conditions and references. In documented design the perception of a pattern depends on the quality of presentation, and in case of actual design, the pattern can be sensed depending on the quality of environment (intensity of background interferences like glare, noise, persistence of past experiences) and conditions of perception (distance, angle, occlusions, reference to past remembrances, framing, personal sensorial capacities, etc.).

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Patterns have primary relevance, if, its body can be realized, and the potential for reuse manifests. For the later intention, a pattern must be traceable. One must sensorially realize its presence or remember its body and be able to copy, recollect or recreate it. In the process, many things get lost, but what gets carried is the essence of the pattern. A pattern may recur in some other time-space conditions.

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The patterns, as a ‘pure design or image’ has no raison d’etre (cause or purpose of origin). Patterns may be entities independent of the surroundings and also flourish as attached to some context. Patterns are arrangements, oriented peculiarly, but could still remain relevant from many other sides.

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Patterns are sectional or part identity of a design composition. The formation and recognition of the Pattern, is the first order of founding a Design. Some ‘designs’ not offer an ‘unusual pattern’ as a take home essence. Such patterns are often in holistic in form. Patterns can have the potential of being joined with similar or dissimilar patterns, reduced in scale and repositioned (reoriented). Patterns also have the inherent possibilities of becoming part of larger compositions. At this stage holistic compositions do not remain personal things.

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Patterns nominally have multiple Motifs, and all integrated in some manner. But a Holistic pattern is a motif. Such motifs (holistic patterns) are self-sustaining elements and stay unaffected by the happenings in the surroundings, so some order of connectivity is required. The order of connection is the manner of touch or overlap, scale, direction and orientation besides the physical commonality and partial distortions. These are the essential characteristics that offer inexhaustible possibilities of bridging. The bridges, have two ends and a ‘structure’ in between. In case of a pattern, the structure may be physical, but generally just hypothetical recognition.

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A Pattern may look like a familiar object, but need not be a representation or symbol. It may not have any abstract conveyance, yet may carry an associated or interpretive meaning. Our cognitive processes surpass the sensorial perception, and so redirect the sensorial search. Pattern recognition is a matter of perception, and so a personal affair. Recognition of a pattern in nature remains impressionistic, and remembered, noted or expressed for posterity.

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The Pattern style is omni present but becomes valid with a culture (terrain, climate, religion, customs, technology). Nikos Salingaros for example considers ‘regularity to be a key property of a pattern whether the pattern is the external stimulus itself or some other percept residing in the mind of the perceiver’. Is the pattern objectively observable and measurable or is it a subjective experience?

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Pattern in Noise: The phenomenon of finding meaningful patterns in meaningless noise is called patternicity , and conversely, not perceiving patterns that are present in the visual stimulus is called apatternicity.

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In general terms, “a gestalt is a form, a figure, a configuration, or a pattern.” The Oxford dictionary defines form as “the visible shape or configuration of something.” The psychologist Gibson argues in his paper titled –What is a Form? -that much more precision is needed in the definition of such terms if they are going to be useful. He laments the fact that “the term form is used by different people to mean different things and by the same person to mean different things on different occasions.” According to Gibsonshape, figure, structure, pattern, order, arrangement, configuration, plan, outline, contour are similar terms without any distinct meaning”.

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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