"the map is not the thing mapped", Eric Temple Bell
"the map is not the territory", Alfred Korzybski
"the map is not the territory, and the name is not the thing named", Grergory Bateson
As our discipline relies on abstractions, representation is always an issue. Our representations enable and hobble us, or more precisely, our designing is facilitated and limited by their affordances and the framework we bring to them. For instance, a drawing appears to be a straightforward representation and yet, confusions still arise. A colleague of ours, a noted expert on computation in design, had a seminar which shared many of the students taking one of ours. Our students were looking at issues of form that required them to produce diagrams, and we were stressing incompletion as a method in the drawing. Our colleague learned of this through the shared students and approached us with a question. He asked about this direction as he had always operated under the assumption that designers drew what they had already imagined, as opposed to drawing to imagine. While his question led to a productive exchange, to anyone who draws, it might seem like an odd assumption. Odd, because looking at a drawing in a design process, you need to see where it came from and where it might go.
The seminar focused on turning observations into generative methods. This is not to be confused with a design process, although it could inform one. As an analogy to biology, it was like identifying pieces of DNA and inserting the genes into an organism to understand their expression, only the genetic sampling was from environmental form. While this seemed simple enough, representing this structure is difficult. As a method, we offered shapes as icons for forms and sent the students off to hunt for examples. The students, though, focused on the shape as a template, thinking it was the shape they had to look for — this was our mistake and it was not just a semantic issue. We were interested in the generative understanding of a form, which required more than a singular instance of its expression. Rather, this understanding was to be found in the many instances of the form, at different scales and with multiple expressions. If the shape was the map, the territory was the relational information implying transformation and variation. Our students became lost in the map, rather than wandering about the territory, as we had hoped.
This was where the incomplete drawing method came in as we tried to find ways to represent a relational structure. With no simple way of representing these relations, we turned to drawing sequences with associated examples illustrating various expressions This was only partially sufficient. Just as it is necessary to see in a design drawing where it might go, seeing form requires seeing its relational structure. Representing generative information is a cognitive issue. These days we look to parametric design techniques as a path to representing this information, particularly in the realm of urban design, but we haven't yet met that algorithm.
A possible path, "A Practical Generative Design Method", Sivam Krish/Computer-Aided Design 43 (2011) 88–100