The concepts of surface structure and deep structure are taken for granted in some disciplines, such as linguistics and media studies, but little known in others. This article is a brief overview of these concepts, with examples from literature, film, physics and human error.
The core concept
A simple initial example is that the surface structure of Fred kisses Ginger is an instantiation of the deep structure the hero kisses the heroine. That same deep structure can appear as many surface structures, such as Rhett kisses Scarlett or Mr Darcy kisses Elizabeth Bennet.
There are various ways of representing surface and deep structure. One useful representation is putting brackets around each chunk of surface structure, to clarify which bits of surface structure map onto which bits of deep structure; for example, [Mr Darcy] [kisses] [Elizabeth Bennet].
Another useful representation shows the surface structure mapped onto the deep structure visually. One way of doing this is as a table, like the one below.
So what is creativity, and how can you generate more and better ideas?
There’s pretty general agreement that:
Creativity is a Good Thing
Thinking outside the box is a Good Thing
Thinking laterally is a Good Thing
That’s a good start.
However, when you start asking about how creativity works, or just how you’re supposed to think outside the box, or think laterally, an element of vagueness starts to roll in, like a dense bank of fog off the Atlantic at the start of a horror movie…
You start hearing stories of people and organisations that thought successfully and laterally outside the box, in a way that solved their problems with designing better elevators. You encounter puzzles involving people and items being found in improbable situations, such as stabbed to death with no weapon visible, in the middle of a field of unsullied snow. It’s all very edifying and interesting, but it doesn’t get to grips with what creativity really is, or how to do anything systematic about creating new ideas.
This article gives a brief overview of a systematic framework for making sense of creativity, and for choosing appropriate methods for generating new ideas.
It’s spring. To some people, it’s a time of flowers and buds and growth and new hope. To other people, it’s the time when they’re trying to write their undergraduate dissertation, and are feeling lost and confused.
This article is intended for people who are grappling with academic writing, and who are having trouble working out what the core concepts are. It has elements of humour in it, but the underlying point is completely serious. It’s about the deep structure and the internal logic of academic writing. Most people are unfamiliar with those two topics in the academic context, but they’re very familiar with them in a different context, which is the core of this article. That context is the fairy tale.
This article goes through the key stages of an academic article, mapping them onto the corresponding stages of a fairy tale, and explaining the underlying logic behind them.
Making a design interesting can be a significant challenge for designers, particularly when working in a well-established field.
Two simple but effective ways of making a design interesting are:
making the design novel, in terms of deep structure and/or surface structure
making the design difficult or impossible to parse.
Both these approaches have a long history in applied design, though usually without much explicit reference to the underlying principles.
This article discusses the underlying principles, and then looks at practical implications for making a design novel. I’ll look at the issue of parsing a design in a separate article, for reasons of space.