Old Greek Dudes Argue About Design

By andy on February 22, 2016 — 3 mins read

The Influences of Rhetoric and Socratic Method on Information Design.


The foundations of modern communication; To inform, persuade, open a discourse, are simply the tools of being human. These skills and methods have been taught since the early days of Greece, perhaps they extend further back in the annals of history. Many design processes have been extended through these principles.

The web industry, essentially, the reincarnation of publishing on crack, is a uniquely positioned medium to open discourse in never before seen ways. With the emergence of wearable tech, more accessible data, increased information sharing… Strategy and collaboration are crucial in connecting this increasingly more complicated landscape. A requirement for the effective inquiry of these new channels is through Socratic thinking. Let’s further examine the origins of rhetoric and it’s application as a tool for Socratic Methods.

A glimpse into Socratic Method

Through the Socratic method or intellectual inquiry, we can build effective patterns to applying rhetoric to our design and business methodologies. Socratic method in effect, is the use of rhetoric to build “argumentative consensus,” this method does not live in relatives, but in data and persuasion, there should always be a winner, an established direction, path. Wow. A winner, a winning idea, a SOLUTION that rises above the rest. Designing for information and content needs to be solution driven. How often do projects get derailed by emotion, bureaucracy and just plain bad decisions? At the core of Socratic examination is the distilling of concepts down to a single belief. It relies on Logos (Logic), pathos (Values), Ethos (Trust). These are crucial ingredients to collaboration, and we will examine each of these concepts later on!

The method in Socratic – is collaboration and discourse. Socratic circles and triads are based on the interaction and collaboration of peers. We must be seen as peers / partners to effectively build consensus. Broad open questions are used to examine processes and big ideas, by avoiding nitty gritty details, teams can quickly uncover common or shared problems. There are so many deep articles and resources that discuss triads and Socratic circles, give it a gander if you dare…

Generally, Socratic circles effectively highlight pain points without getting distracted by minute details. Sometimes there is no single right answer, as there are often many problems that will be uncovered. But by mapping out pain points, a road map to the solution will start to arise. This is where Socratic method can help evolve design thinking. We generally have tons of specific solutions, tools, ideas… But often lack the due diligence to examine an open discourse to understand how these solutions can impact the core problems of other humans.

Rhetoric; Heuristics for understanding

How rhetoric fits with Socratic method is in the discovery of problems and the argument of solutions. Heuristic is simply discovery, and paired with rhetoric is an effective way to problem solve. Key elements of Heuristics for empathizing is seated in the very human identity. What influences humans understandings of the world —

  • Logos: Logic
  • Pathos: Values
  • Ethos: Trust

These natural influences shape how humans perceive each other. They influence how we collaborate with each other. Balancing these ideas in messaging, as well as in verbal communication can help drive intentional collaboration.

Focus in closer, and using these three human conditions, there are generally accepted canons of verbal rhetoric. These five cannons help us apply verbal communication to the presentation and argument of problems. But dare I suggest these can apply in many various forms of visual communication?  A quick scan of wikipedia uncovered a quick and dirty list of the five canons:

Synthesized into the five canons of rhetoric

  1. Invention | A systematic search for arguments (Purpose)
  2. Arrangement | Statement of case (Thesis)
  3. Style | Oration and elocution, “to speak” (Voice+Tone/Brand)
  4. Memory | Recall, arguments or discourses (Consideration)
  5. Delivery | Expression, volume and pitch (Brand)

Wrap it up

How do these apply to digital? The world around us is filled with clutter, advertising, and people/brands fighting for our mind share. Applying rhetoric through Socratic thinking can mold our design process to become a more perfect goal-oriented approach. An approach that acknowledges collaboration as a core tenant to effective problem solving. Focussing these ideals into the funnel of strategy, can drastically help individuals perceive and empathize with the barriers prohibiting the achievement of goals. Digital products, the internet, wearable tech, heck even just your next board meeting, could greatly benefit from a bit of Socratic formation.

Thank you Old-Greek-Dudes & Dude-ette’s.

Posted in: Opinion, User Experience

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