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Diagram Blending: Building Diagram Networks (Introduction)

The development of a new practice of diagramming

On Dec 16, I closed the D as Diagramming project (Phase 1) with the Diagramming as Practice framework. The project is both a research project and an experimental project.

As a research project, I use three approaches for the project:

  • Reflect on my own works
  • Interview others
  • Collect examples

This method could be considered roughly as a triangular method. I learned the basic idea about Triangulating Data from Clay Spinuzzi’s book Topsight: A guide to studying, diagnosing, and fixing information flow in organization.

During the past several months, I interviewed four friends about their diagrams and their practices and wrote case study reports. I also designed many diagrams and wrote many articles about diagramming.

There are three types of outcomes:

  • The Diagramming as Practice Framework
  • A series of Operational Heuristics
  • A Model of Knowledge Curation and a canvas for Knowledge Curation Mapping

As an experimental project, I worked on three ideas:

  • Introduced a set of Meta-diagrams I designed with real examples.
  • Focused on turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge with diagrams
  • In order to discover the relationship between diagram and canvas, I turned my diagrams into canvas as experiments.

Since the notion of Meta-diagrams are really new, I had to coin some new terms to name emergent ideas during the process. Eventually, I realized that I should edit a new book to curate these new ideas together.

The new book is titled Diagram Blending: Building Diagram Networks. This article is the introduction of the book. The next article will share the Table of Contents.

Contents

  1. From Conceptual Blending to Diagram Blending
  2. Diagram Explained
  3. A New Practice of Diagramming
  4. A Set of Meta-diagrams
  5. The Diagram Blending Method
  6. A Set of New Terms
  7. A Possible Book

1. From Conceptual Blending to Diagram Blending

I am a big fan of Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner’s Conceptual Blending Theory which is an established theoretical approach in the field of cognitive linguistics.

A few years ago, I started learning cognitive linguistics and I was immediately fascinated by Conceptual Metaphor and Conceptual Blending. Though Conceptual Blending Theory is about linguistic concepts, Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner develop a set of diagrams to visualize their abstract theoretical ideas.

The above left diagram is the basic diagram of Conceptual Blending Theory. Four circles refer to four Mental Spaces: Input Space 1, Input Space 2, Generic Space, and Blend Space. According to the authors, “Mental spaces are small conceptual packets constructed as we think and talk, for purposes of local understanding and action…A generic mental space maps onto each of the inputs and contains what the inputs have in common.” (2002, pp. 40–42) The fourth space is Blended Spaces which contain emergent structure that is not in the inputs.

The above right diagram is a case study of Conceptual Blending. The authors use Same-sex Marriage to discuss permanent category change. According to the authors, “For ‘same-sex marriage,’ the inputs are the traditional scenario of marriage, on the one hand, and an alternative domestic scenario involving two people of the same sex, on the other. The cross-space mapping may link typical elements such as partners, common dwellings, commitment, love, sex. Selective projection then recruits additional structure from each input. For example, social recognition, wedding ceremonies, and mode of taxation are projected from the input of ‘traditional marriage,’ while same sex, absence of biologically common children, and culturally defined roles of the partners are projected from the other input.”(2002, pp.269–270)

I was very surprised by the way they use diagrams to express complex theoretical ideas. The name of Diagram Blending is inspired by Conceptual Blending. I want to use the title to pay tribute to Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner.

The major difference between Conceptual Blending and Diagram Blending is that instead of use four mental spaces to build the foundation of a theory, I use the Part — Whole Curativity as the foundation. A simple diagram can be considered as a part of a complex diagram. By adopting the simple idea of Part and Whole, we can blend diagrams together and build a diagram network too.Thus, Diagram Blending is not an application of Conceptual Blending.

Both concepts and diagrams are related to thoughts which is a complicated thing. I wish Diagram Blending could offer a simple method to inspire a new practice of diagramming for thought and expression.

2. Diagram Explained

In 2018, I wrote a 108-page thesis titled Diagram Explained. I developed a framework for understanding multiple layers of diagrams and wrote on a list of topics about diagramming. You can find the framework (see the picture below) on a board.

The thesis considers two groups of ideas. The first group is “meta-diagram, diagram and diagram system” and the second group is “diagramming as an activity of knowing, theorizing and reflecting”.

The notion of “meta-diagram” considers a special type of diagram as an independent thing which doesn’t have to be a representation of an existing theory or model. For example, the 2x2 matrix diagram is a meta-diagram which doesn’t refer to any concrete theory or model such as BCG’s Growth-share matrix. A diagram system is a series of diagrams which share an intrinsic spatial logic and a visual identity.

The notion of “diagramming as an activity of knowing, theorizing and reflecting” adopts a process view to understand Diagrams. In other words, it is “becoming.” That means we can use diagrams as a tool for our thinking. We don’t need to consider all diagrams as final outcomes.

The Diagramming as Practice Framework has expanded the above two groups of ideas. You can find more details here. However, the framework can’t document my work on Meta-diagrams since it is a thinking tool. Thus, I need a new container to contain materials about Meta-diagrams.

3. A New Practice of Diagramming

During the past years, I designed several Meta-diagrams and used them for my own work. In 2020, I launched a channel called D as Diagramming on Doowit.

In the past several months, I adopted these meta-diagrams to design some new frameworks for various topics. The result is awesome! I realized that it is not only about meta-diagrams, but it is about a new practice of diagramming.

How to claim a new practice?

In a 2012 book titled The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday Life and how it Changes, Elizabeth Shove, Mika Pantzar, and Matt Waston use a simple model to explain the elements of social practices. The picture below is one of the case studies of their model. According to the authors, the core elements of a social practice is Material, Competence, and Meaning.

Inspired by the above three-element model, I use a similar structure to discuss the new practice of diagramming: Instruments, Methods, and Terms. The element of Instruments is similar to Material. The element of Methods is related to Competence. The element of Terms is related to Meaning.

  • Instruments: a set of Meta-diagrams
  • Methods: Diagram Blending and other methods.
  • Terms: Diagram Network, Diagram Notation, Sub-diagrams, etc.

So far, only one person has practiced the Diagram Blending practice. I’d like to say this is a possible social practice. If more and more people accept the idea and practice it in their real life world, then it could grow to a real social practice.

4. A Set of Meta-diagrams

In the past several months, I used the following Meta-diagrams for the D as Diagramming project and other projects. Some meta-diagrams were designed years ago, others were designed recently. The picture below is an updated version of my diagrams.

4.1 Theme U
The Theme U diagram presents six themes on a U shape. Example:

4.2 Project I
The Project I is inspired by the Developmental Project Model. Example:

4.3 Container Z
The Container Z refers to the “Echozone” which is the third container of the three-container model. Example:

4.4 Dialectical Room
The Dialectical Room diagram is a “germ-cell” diagram for Project-oriented Activity Theory. It is better to think about the diagram as a room with two windows and one door. Example:

4.5 Interactive Zone
The interactive Zone is inspired by the basic model of the Ecological Zone. It describes an area defined by two corners and a shared center. There are many possible themes within an interactive zone. Example:

4.6 Hierarchical Loops/The Nest Way
It presents two nest levels: Center and Context. Example:

The NEST Way meda-diagram has three components: a hierarchical loop, a matrix, and a set of concepts. Example:

4.7 X-for-Y
The X-for-Y meta-diagram is formed by two triangles. Example:

4.8 Thing — People
The diagram presents the Thing — People ecological structure. T means Thing while P means People. 1 means Here while 2 means There. The diagram presents six types of relations. There are four dimensions behind these six types of relations. The pair of “Homogeneous — Heterogeneous” refers to Categorical Difference while the pair of “Close — Remote” refers to Spatial Difference. Example:

iART stands for i +Activity + Relationship + Themes. It offers an ecological perspective on personal adult development and similar activities. Examples:

4.9 Tripartness
I made the Tripartness diagram in 2018 when I created the Ecological Zone framework. The original Ecological Zone Framework considers three Subjects, three Zones and one shared Theme. In order to make the meta-diagram, I rename these elements with more abstract words such as Corner, Zone, Center and Context. Introduction: Tripartness and Diagram Blending. Example:

4.10 Hubhood
The Hubhood meta-diagram was born on Feb 6, 2021 when I was re-thinking on the Platform-for-Development (P4D) framework (v1.0) with the concept of Supportance. You can find more details from the following links:

4.11 Stage
The Stage meta-diagram was created with a metaphor named Mind as Play. The metaphor has three elements: domain=stage, objects of knowing=actors, perspectives=stage lights. Example:

A meta-diagram is not a knowledge framework or model. The value of meta-diagrams is highlighting the hierarchy of diagrams and the cognitive diversity of diagramming. You don’t have to only use the 2x2 matrix meta-diagram to frame your thoughts.

The above 11 meta-diagrams are classified into three categories due to their complexity. I used small grey dots to mark this aspect.

  • One grey dot: Low-complexity meta-diagrams
  • Two grey dots: Mid-complexity meta-diagrams
  • Three grey dots: High-complexity meta-diagrams

As mentioned above, the Part — Whole Curativity is the foundation of Diagram Blending. Low-complexity meta-diagrams can form higher complexity meta-diagrams. Thus, the low-complexity meta-diagrams can be considered as parts of the higher complexity meta-diagrams.

For me, the above 11 meta-diagrams connect together and form a large dynamic network which can roughly match the dynamic network of my tacit knowledge. You can use these meta-diagrams or develop your own meta-diagrams too.

5. The Diagram Blending Method

Originally, I designed the picture below to describes four types of “self — other” relationship. Now we can use it to discuss the notion of Diagram Blending.

If there is only one thing, then there is no relationship and blending in particular. The above picture shows two things, Self and Other. The four types of “Self — Other” relationship present an archetypal unit of Diagram Blending: two triangles blend together and form a new diagram.

By increasing the numbers of meta-diagrams and the complexity of meta-diagrams, and adjusting the relationship between meta-diagrams, we can achieve various types of Diagram Blending.

The above discussion points out the foundation of Diagram Blending at the abstract level. If we move to the concrete level, we can find a new meaning of Blending. The diagram below is adopted from a previous article: D as Diagramming: An Integrated Framework for Studying Knowledge Diagrams (Part 2).

The above diagram represents several types of blending of the Diagramming practice.

  • Design: The “Visualization — Conceptualization” Blending
  • Impact: The “Perception — Interpretation” Blending
  • Relevance: The “Self — Other” Blending

Let’s have a look at some interesting real examples from the D as Diagramming project and my other works.

In the D as Diagramming project, I didn’t use the term Diagram Expanding which is the reverse process of Diagram Blending. See the examples below:

I choose Diagram Blending as the name of the whole system which covers Diagram Blending, Diagram Expanding, Diagram Network, Diagram System, and Meta-diagrams. The Diagram Blending Method refers to related methods.

Finally, there is an important blending which is relevant but it is a higher level of Diagram Blending.

  • The Diagram — Concept Blending

As mentioned before, my focus is knowledge diagrams and knowledge frameworks. If you read my articles about diagrams, you probably notice that I used the term Diagrams interchangeably with Knowledge Frameworks.

What’s actually the difference between these two things? It’s hard to give a definition to the concept of Diagram. For the D as Diagramming project, I set a simple criteria for sorting diagrams: the number of concepts contained in a diagram. If a diagram only represents one concept, then I call it a Single Concept Diagram. If a diagram represents more than one concept and the relationship between these concepts, then I call it a Multiple Concepts Diagram.

My primary interest is not Singly Concept Diagram, but Multiple Concept Diagram. When I used the term Diagrams interchangeably with Knowledge Frameworks, I always talked about Multiple Concepts Diagrams.

So, Diagram Blending is only a half part of the whole thing. We should consider the Diagram — Concept Blending too. There are some techniques that can help us to respond to this challenge. For example, turning a metaphor into a diagram.

In addition, I also developed some methods in the D as Diagramming project. For example, Diagram Notation. It refers to the process of adding notes on a diagram and turning a basic model into an expanded model. It also means the product of the final expanded model. For example, iART Diagram Notation. I’d like to consider it as part of the book Diagram Blending.

6. A Set of New Terms

I coined Meta-diagrams, Diagram Blending, Diagram Notation, and other new terms to describe my various practices of diagramming. These new terms are brand new to others.

An innovative practice always brings some new terms to the world. As a new idea, the Diagram Blending practice needs these new vocabularies to establish its own function and identity.

The list below is a set of terms for the Diagram Blending practice.

  • Meda-diagrams
  • Diagram System
  • Diagram-in-use
  • Sub-diagrams
  • Diagram Network
  • Diagam Blending
  • Diagram Expanding
  • Diagram Notation
  • Diagram Focus
  • Knowledge Diagrams
  • Knowledge Frameworks
  • Knowledge Canvases
  • Misdiagramming
  • The Top-down Approach
  • The Bottom-up Approach

6.1 Meda-diagrams

The notion of “meta-diagram” considers a special type of diagram as an independent thing which doesn’t have to be a representation of an existing theory or model. For example, the 2x2 matrix diagram is a meta-diagram which doesn’t refer to any concrete theory or model such as BCG’s Growth-share matrix.

6.2 Diagrams System

A diagram system is a series of diagrams which share an intrinsic spatial logic and a visual identity. For example, I design a series of diagrams for Project-oriented Activity Theory. These diagrams share the same spatial logic and visual identity.

6.3 Diagram-in-use

From the perspective of AcActivity Theory, we can roughly understand a diagram and a diagram-in-use as a whole and consider each particular usage as a part. In other words, diagramming as activity, a particular diagram-in-use as an action. You can find details here.

6.4 Sub-diagrams

If a diagram-in-use doesn’t use all elements of a diagram, we can consider it as a sub-diagram of the original diagram. For example, The Innovation Design Approach offers special diagrams which visualize different ways of using the basic diagram. See details here (the 7.6.1 section).

6.5 Diagram Network

Several diagrams connect together and form a network. From the perspective of Activity Theory, the concept of Diagram Network echoes the idea of Activity Network. Each diagram refers to an activity and a Diagram Network refers to an Activity Network. A Diagram Network can be built with the Diagram Blending method or the Diagram Expanding method.

6.6 Diagram Blending

Two or more diagrams combine together and form a new diagram. For example: The Organization — for — Opportunity framework.

6.7 Diagram Expanding

Using one or more diagrams to explain parts of a diagram. Diagram Expanding is the reverse process of Diagram Blending. For example: The Life-as-Activity Framework (v2.0).

6.8 Diagram Notation

The process of adding notes on a diagram and turning a basic model into an expanded model. It also means the product of the final expanded model. For example, iART Diagram Notation.

6.9 Diagram Focus

We can use a transparent grey layer on a diagram and highlight a part of a diagram for a special purpose. For this technique, the part is a Diagram Focus. For example, The Opportunity Formula.

6.10 Knowledge Diagrams

I used the term Diagrams interchangeably with Knowledge Frameworks.For the D as Diagramming project, I set a simple criteria for sorting diagrams: the number of concepts contained in a diagram. If a diagram only represents one concept, then I call it a Single Concept Diagram. If a diagram represents more than one concept and the relationship between these concepts, then I call it a Multiple Concepts Diagram.

6.11 Knowledge Frameworks

A Knowledge Framework or Knowledge Model presents a systematic thought about a particular topic or a phenomenon with several concepts.

6.12 Knowledge Canvases

A Knowledge Canvas is a situational instrument of diagrams. The major difference between Knowledge Diagrams and Knowledge Canvases is that the latter offers visual spaces for users to post notes. This specific requirement leads to a unique design strategy. More discussions: The Value-fit Framework and Canvas, The Creative Work Canvas, and the Means — End Spectrum.

6.13 Misdiagramming

The term Misdiagramming refers to misunderstanding of diagrams. A person adopts a knowledge framework with a diagram to explain his practical cases and develops a new framework with a new diagram. If the person doesn’t understand the original framework correctly, then he may make a wrong diagram. I call it Misdiagramming. See my own experience here (the 7.7.3 section).

6.14 The Top-down Approach

Using theoretical concepts to generate operational concepts with a meta-diagram. For example, the Lifesystem framework.

6.15 The Bottom-up Approach

Using operational concepts to generate theoretical concepts with a meta-diagram. For example, the Landscape of Opportunity.

7. A Possible Book

The above discussion offers a basic framework for editing the new book: Diagram Blending: Building Diagram Networks.

I also realized that some of my old articles are perfect for the new book. Thus, I organized the book into three parts.

  • Part One: A Possible Journey
  • Part Two: A Possible Practice
  • Part Three: A Possible Theory

The next article will share more details and the Table of Contents.

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