A Pattern Language

flickr photo shared by Eva the Weaver under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license


The human mind is specialised in extracting and interpreting patterns. The natural world presents an infinite source of patterns, ready there for the human mind to perceive and process. They can be found all around you. Imagine one day when you’re looking at the clouds, how they form and merge into all sorts of creatures. And according to physics, nature is governed by universal laws and is thus behaving in patterns. From the macroscopic patterns of galaxies and planets to the tiniest particles known by modern science, nature operates systematically and predictably. At least most of the time.

Some patterns are non-self symmetric, meaning that they look differently when you zoom in and out on them. Think of your skin. It looks smooth, but when you zoom in, it has millions of pores and hairs on it. Other patterns are fractal or self symmetric, meaning that they have the same pattern characteristics when you zoom in and out. Think of a tree, where each of the branches are smaller versions of the main trunk of the tree. Or this amazing Romanesco broccoli above!

But also human behaviour is up to a large extent systematic. While watching people walking on the street, passing the crosswalk, you can more or less predict how they are going to behave. There is a pattern, you could say. But even though we tend to act in patterns, or habits, we aren’t always aware of them. By careful observation we might see patterns that we weren’t previously aware of.

In this exercise we will identify and explore different types of patterns, both in nature and in the human world. Bring on your best analytical gaze and observe!

Activity Type



2 hours

Learning Outcomes

  • To become aware of the presence of patterns in your surroundings

  • To be able to extract and interpret different patterns, both from the natural and the human world


Required Materials and Tools:

  • Pen and paper, or a computer program (there are downloadable open source programs). When applicable, you might even try to use camera and tracing software.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Draw a non-self symmetric pattern from nature. It should be a pattern that changes when you zoom in and out, meaning there will be two drawings.

  2. Draw a fractal, or a self symmetric pattern from nature.

  3. Analyse a pattern from the human world. The task is to translate an abstract pattern into a visual one. Most common would be a movement pattern. For example: It can be the paths people walk on the street and waiting for the traffic light. Try to determine what kind of pattern it is (non-self symmetric or fractal), be patient, observe a while before you start drawing. But it can also be a more abstract pattern for instance how a group of people that know each other sit down in a circle. You might even want to set up a small experimental arrangement and ‘record’ your pattern several times.

  4. Compare the patterns you have made.



  • Did the exercise make you see any patterns, in nature and in the human world, that you hadn’t seen before?

  • Are there parallels between natural and human patterns?

  • How are they similar and how do they differ?

  • Does observing human patterns it trigger any thoughts on human behaviour and psychology?

Instructions for Submission

Upload 1 photo of the pattern you prefer best. Submit your answers to the questions from the Reflection section. Instructions on how to upload photos and how to submit things in Moodle can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading

Instructions for Assessment

Provide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback

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