Book: The Cognitive Artifacts of Designing

The Cognitive Artifacts of Designing

Visser, W. (2006)
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

The Cognitive Artifacts of Designing, in which Willemien Visser presents her view of design from a cognitive perspective. In order to render the essential and specific qualities of design, she characterizes it as a construction of representations. This presentation is preceded by a critical review of the research performed since some 30 years in the domain of cognitive design studies.

The Cognitive Artifacts of Designing presents a new perspective in cognitive design research: design is most appropriately characterized as the construction of representations (internal and external). This viewpoint constitutes an alternative to today's main theoretical approaches, i.e. the classical cognitive-psychology viewpoint (represented by Simon's symbolic information processing model) and the situativity standpoint (which, in design studies, generally takes the form of Schön's reflective practice framework). With respect to methodology, breaking with the classical cognitive-psychology approach, where research is mostly conducted in artificially restricted conditions, we claim the necessity to characterize design on the basis of data collected on designers' actual working activity in professional design projects.

We characterize the different representational structures and the activities operating on them; an outline is sketched of directions regarding functional linkages between these structures and activities. We discuss different aspects of the representational structures - e.g., their form and function - and their variations according to the phases of the design process: representations at the source of a design project (requirements or "design problems"), intermediate representations, and representations at the end of a design project (specifications or "design solutions").

The construction of representations is a high-level cognitive activity, which is implemented through three main types of activities, i.e. generation, transformation, and evaluation of representations. These activities resort themselves to other activities and operations, such as interpretation, association, integration, exploration, inference, restructuring, combining, hypothesizing, and also drawing (sketching and other forms) and gesturing (pointing, delimiting, tracing, and other forms).

We defend an augmented cognitively oriented "generic-design hypothesis." There are both significant similarities between the design activities implemented in different situations and crucial differences between these and other cognitive activities; yet, characteristics of a design situation (related to the designers, the artifact, and other task variables influencing these two) introduce specificities in the cognitive activities and structures that are used. We propose some candidates for dimensions underlying differences between such forms of design.

More information about the book can be found from the Routledge website.