The concepts of complexity, emergence and relationality were introduced in 20th century science and philosophy as means of counteracting the effects of positivism and reductionism. They are crucial for understanding the operation of narrative environments as material, semiotic phenomena and therefore in their design.

In a technical sense, in the context of the sciences of complexity, “emergent properties or processes constitute a certain class of higher-level properties or processes related in a certain way to the microstructure of a class of systems.” (Gomes et al., 2007). While there is no unified emergence theory, it may be possible to discern within the diversity of emergence theories a set of common characteristics. For example, emergence theories require a distinction between systemic and non-systemic properties and an assumption of a hierarchy of levels of existence (Gomes et al., 2007).

In a commercial context, an emergent attribute is a feature, benefit, quality or experience that arises from a brand, as opposed to the utility of the core product or service, for example, the purported user-friendliness of Google.This topic is discussed by Marty Neumeier in The Brand Gap.


Gomes, A. et al. (2007) ‘Towards the emergence of meaning processes in computers from Peircean semiotics’, Mind and Society, 6 (2), pp. 173–187. doi: 10.1007/s11299-007-0031-9.