Function as Metonymy

DS 58-2: Proceedings of ICED 09, the 17th International Conference on Engineering Design, Vol. 2, Design Theory and Research Methodology, Palo Alto, CA, USA, 24.-27.08.2009

Year: 2009
Editor: Norell Bergendahl, M.; Grimheden, M.; Leifer, L.; Skogstad, P.; Lindemann, U.
Author: Winkelman, Paul M.
Series: ICED
Section: Design Theory and Research Methodology
Page(s): 407-416


Design aids often seek to map function to form. Hierarchies offer possible models but risk emphasizing competition at the expense of more cooperative relationships. Cooperation can be seen in the biological concept of the "correlation of parts", where the presence of one part in an organism (e.g., sharp teeth) implies the presence of others (e.g., sharp claws). We can thus reconstruct the whole based on the knowledge of a part, creating a part-to-whole mapping. The mapping is made possible, not by causal linkages (à la physics) but by the cooperative interactions of parts in a containing system exhibiting a function. This concept can be represented by metonymy, a linguistic device where one entity refers to another related entity. A picture of a person's face, for example, can represent the entire person. Function echoes this concept in that the function of a part is assigned and understood in light of the whole. From the perspective of conceptual design, we start with one or a few parts and continue to add parts, guided by function, to create a finished product. Function-as-metonymy suggests a model for a function-to-form mapping scheme.

Keywords: function, metonymy, engineering science, biology


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