An implicit assumption in metaphor use is that it requires grounding in a familiar concept, prominently seen in the popular Desktop Metaphor. In human-to-human communication, however, abstract metaphors, without such grounding, are often used with great success. To understand when and why metaphors work, we present a case study of metaphor use in voice teaching. Voice educators must teach about subjective, sensory experiences and rely on abstract metaphor to express information about unseen and intangible processes inside the body. We present a thematic analysis of metaphor use by 12 voice teachers. We found that metaphor works not because of strong grounding in the familiar, but because of its ambiguity and flexibility, allowing shared understanding between individual lived experiences. We summarise our findings in a model of metaphor-based communication. This model can be used as an analysis tool within the existing taxonomies of metaphor in user interaction for better understanding why metaphor works in HCI. It can also be used as a design resource for thinking about metaphor use and abstracting metaphor strategies from both novel and existing designs.
The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (https://chi2023.acm.org/)