Discussable complexity in science communication through form language

Discussable complexity in science communication through form language

Author: Maarten van der Sanden – Delft University of Technology, Netherlands


  • Anne Kamp – Vormtaal / Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world the discussion on complexity is inevitable. However, this interaction is often hampered by a mutual misunderstanding of what the other means by complexity at hand. Diffuse debates on HPV vaccination exemplify this awkwardness in which multi stakeholders and many emotions are both intensely interwoven and fiercely contested.

It is widely known that humans not only understand this complex reality through interaction with others, but actually by using all their senses. Through speech, a sense of touch, vision, sound, people obtain an idea of the whole by bringing their known and felt knowledge together. Likewise, mostly natural scientists make use of 3D-models, and abstract figures to explain or discuss the complexity of e.g. protein folding. However, when the challenge lacks a physical appearance these go-to ways to understand complexity fail and we’re back to relying on words to feed the discussion. A language based on form and space, using properties as ‘proportion’, ‘rhythm’ and ‘scale’ rather than words seems to fill this gap.

Looking at how architecture communicates in a more intuitive way through experience, rather than symbolic meaning, we created a ‘form language’ that invites the user to envision the complexity they feel when they think about e.g. the complexity of the vaccination debate. The various materials as well as the pyramids, spheres and cubes of this language support people to talk, touch, see and feel their mutual complex challenge through the shared imagination of what each form means to them.

Testing the form language with professionals and university students showed its great potential in supporting discussions on complexity and the creation of the team. During the insight talk we would like to showcase these results by a short demonstration of such a discussion obtained from our own research and design practice.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Insight talk
Theme: Transformation