Gallery of models

A model is a representation and an abstraction that can be used in investigating and understanding how things work.

This is the definition of “model” that Greg Hill and I use in our E&S paper.

Here are a few sources for this approach:

  • “Models describe how things work, whereas theories explain phenomena.” (Rapoport 1985, as cited in Berkes and Folke 1998)
  • “[A model] is an illustration describing how something works by showing its elements in relationship to one another.” (Friedman 2005)
  • “Models are representations and models are compressions.” (Letiche et al. 2011)
  • “A model is a work object… A model is worked, and it does work.” (Haraway 2016)



  • I like to pair the famous quip by Box and Draper (1987), “all models are wrong, but some are useful,” with a counterpoint by Holling et al. (2002) that mental models are “not wrong, just incomplete.” Similarly, Leonard and Clemson (1984) wrote, “Any two different perspectives (or models) about a system will reveal truths about that system that are neither entirely independent nor entirely compatible.”
  • With regard to the word “representation,” in the definition at top, “a model is a representation and an abstraction,” I’m thinking also of fictional representation or even misrepresentation. See, for example, Frigg (2010) Models and Fiction (pdf).
  • This gallery is a work in progress. Your favorite model missing? Other thoughts? Please get in touch: howard AT solvingforpattern DOT org or in the comment thread below.
  • These images are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Many of them are by me; some of the better ones are by design friends Wade Larsen and Andrew Fuller.
  • My shortlist of additional references on models:

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