I began this project with an audit of qualitative methods of expressing thinking about complex phenomena writ large. As I reviewed various examples, I began coding them according to method, topic, and audience.
One of the most compelling examples I found was of a landscape, meant to visualize the experience of completing an online course. Although the visualization was coupled with a quantified measure of progress (points), I found the landscape to be most representative of my qualitative experience of the course.
To learn more, I researched references to landscapes and conceptual metaphors in anthropology, cognitive science, and design. I found that landscapes are commonly used as metaphors for complex systems. Understanding a complex information system as an "information landscape," for example, helps convey the idea that such a system, like a landscape, is vast and encompasses many, interacting variables. While we commonly use landscape metaphors in speech to help us understand complex systems, we rarely use landscape metaphors in visuals to help us understand complex systems.