Pattern language
Big Business
Pattern language
Pattern language
Sole Trader

Pattern language
A visual tool to help open up your thinking

The big idea

Pattern language was originated by Alexander, Ishikawa and Silverstein, three architects who wanted to look at how to generate new building design ideas. The basis of the approach is straightforward: instead of expressing the elements of a problem in writing or verbally, you use symbols and patterns to spark new ideas. The act of drawing is used as a means for letting go of your assumptions and opening up your more intuitive responses.


The purpose of the technique is to free you from the constraints of verbal or written language by taking a problem or issue and mapping it visually using a series of abstract symbols. It forces your mind to look at problems in a whole new way. Once you have produced a series of symbols, you can start to look for any visual patterns that emerge and what they suggest to you about the problem.

The Tool

The technique involves a number of steps:

  1. Identify the problem or topic you want to address
  2. List all the attributes you can think of for your problem or topic
  3. Now draw a symbol of each attribute on a series of index cards or post-its. Just draw whatever comes to mind and feels appropriate to you
  4. Spread out all the cards with the symbols face up. Move them around, mix and match, pair some up, focus on one or two in particular. Just allow yourself to play with them intuitively. Don’t try and force anything, just move them around. If your ideas dry up, try adding new symbols or combining other techniques like free association
  5. Record your ideas and decide on any actions you want to take