Thinking like a designer – use of metaphors (UPDATE – Interaction Design presentation))

This is kind of extended thinking from yesterday. Presentation Zen has a great list of 10 tips for how to think like a designer including thinking like a beginner and focusing on ideas not tools.

I like metaphors and think they are also important in idea generation and visualization. Via Juras Vetrau in the FF User Experience room, Guiseppe Constanza’s dissertation on Zooming out from the Desktop, The Use of Metaphors in Human Computer Interface Design. I have only just started reading it but this leapt out:

“Metaphors are powerful linguistic instruments used to compare something unknown to something known, but if used in a wrong way they can be misleading.” 1

Nicholas Nova also blogged about a reference looking at why people disliked the office assistant Clippy . When we use software and hardware for the first time, we like to be able to associate our experiences, images and interactions with what we are looking at on a screen. Its interesting to explore how we associate or disassociate items or objects in our physical environment.

My thoughts yesterday were about a visualization – tool that I felt didn’t have a particularly useful metaphor for helping me understand how I might search online. They had chosen a physical object – a wheel, but it didn’t seem particularly well defined, I couldn’t picture what it looked like, I couldn’t seem to find a mental reference / association / connection. I also didn’t really see how a wheel would help me search randomly – I am neither a search or visualization expert – but it just didn’t seem quite right. In that sense it could have been a pair of dice – a bit like the Diceman.

But these are just objects – they might have an association of some sort with decision making – but where is the richness of movement, where is the richness of exploration – it feels very bland.

Jonathan Hey has also applied metaphors to conceptual design:

“A quick review of the language of design illustrates that many of design’s fundamental concepts are also metaphorical, for example: we need to narrow down on a concept; let’s bounce around some ideas; let’s break the problem down; maybe there’s another route to a solution; how can we resolve this conflict?; this is an elegant solution; we need to think outside the box; encourage wild ideas” 2

Is it possible to think without language and still use metaphors? Photos are incredibly rich visually and having the full reality – not just objects in an environment but the associations related to the photo, what you remember about when the photo was taken etc

1. Constanza G, (2008), Zooming out from the desktop, The use of metaphors in Human–Computer Interface design, Available at:

2. Hey J, Agogino A, Metaphors in Conceptual Design, Proceedings of the ASME 2007 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, IDETC/CIE 2007, September 4-7, 2007, Las Vegas, Nevada, USASeptember 4-7, 2007, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Available at:

UPDATE: I can’t seem to get this presentation to display properly but Interaction Design, Material Form & Metaphor is great too !

Design posts too, from earlier this year