Multilingual designers

Whenever we design a new course, game, community or business model, we are speaking a pattern language. We use a vocabulary of components we assemble into coherent expressions. We expect our students, players, members or customers to comprehend what we've said in this language. We anticipate they will speak the same language and comprehend our intended meaning.

Any pattern language defines how to evaluate designs. The language defines what is useful and useless, coherent and confusing, or worth keeping or in need of more work. We use the language to comprehend the solutions we've created and anticipate what else to improve about them. We think in terms of the components we're "speaking with" as we conceive of more alternatives to generate and criteria to apply to those innovations.

When we're fluent in a language, we take it for granted. We forget what the language assumes, dwells upon, leaves out and over-emphasizes. We think in the language as well as speak it. We don't realize how we've limited ourselves by the language we've adopted or how it compels us to go to particular extremes. We replicate the premises of the language as we think, communicate and act on the language's assumptions.

As designers, we need to be multilingual. We need to speak the language of SME's if we're sharing their expert content with others. We need to speak the language of natural environments, ecologies and habitats if we're proposing new invasive structures. We need to think in the same terms as school dropouts if we're going to reach them with supportive opportunities. We need to use the same vocabulary as potential members if the new community will be appealing for them to join.

Knowing more than one language makes us aware of the idiosyncrasies of each one. We realize how we cannot find a word that conveys the same meaning or conveys a complex idea as simply. We see how patterns in one language are excluded from another. We understand why things happen because of the pattern language that has been used to generate new ideas and evaluate the designs.

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