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Circle: a visual framework to understanding the world

My obsession with circles started early on. Before I understood both the simplicity and complexity of the form itself, this geometric shape was already an object of fascination. As a child, I learned that drawing a perfect circle by hand, was nearly impossible. So I made it my mission to try and accomplish the perfect circle, filling many notebooks with my failed attempts.

On my 7th birthday, I received a gift that took my interest to the next level, a spirograph – those rulers that let you draw multiple designs using circles. The endless possibilities of drawing circumferences excited me, probably more than it should have. I produced countless drawings using that spirograph. In 1999 all Christmas gifts were circle drawings in some way, shape or form.

In primary school, I started learning about planets – their spherical shapes, their circular movement around themselves and stars, their globular satellites. I also learned about the food chain, crop circles, wind patterns and many other circular structures found in nature. All of this, combined with the use of drafting compasses for mathematics and geometry classes, consolidated my admiration.

As I grew a little older, I started paying more attention to human-made circles. Clocks, engines, and magnet compasses have become favorite machines of mine for exactly that reason. I was 10 when I fell in love with time. As a dimension, time is perceived as a linear structure, in comparison to space. However, humans found a way to structure in a cyclical form of hours, days, weeks, months, years, centuries… cycles of circles to create a pattern.

In university, I studied chemistry. On my first day I was enlightened with Lavoisier’s work in the Law of Conservation of Mass “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”. The circle of transformation mass continuously comes back to mind to teach me valuable life lessons.

Throughout the years I have been able to apply the concept of closed circular systems in so many other fields, for example, in my MSc Thesis, I looked at a framework for a Marketing Technology Stack. As a closed system, the process flow looked like a series of interlinking circles of feedback between systems. I have also used spherical methodologies to structure research,  to improve communication, manage change, understand relationships, and even to deal with loss and grief.

Perhaps I intentionally look for circular structures in my experiences, and confirmation bias is likely to be playing a role in my findings. The architect Andrew Sullivan once said “form ever follows function”, and the beauty is that I find that many functions can fit this form.

One might even argue that it is an overly simplistic manner of looking at things. Nevertheless, I believe there is beauty in reducing concepts to its core. And humans have a way of turning complex concepts into formulas and visual frameworks to make sense of them.  Personally, circles have proven to be an effective visual aid to help me understand the world.

Whether you join me in admiration for circles or not, the use of visual frameworks as a learning mechanism has been explored extensively in psychology, education, technology, architecture, design, medicine, art, and engineering.

Do you use any visual frameworks?

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