Designing as construction of representations: A dynamic viewpoint in cognitive design research

  • Visser W
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This article presents a cognitively oriented viewpoint on design. It focuses on cognitive, dynamic aspects of real design, that is, the actual cognitive activity implemented by designers during their work on professional design projects. Rather than conceiving designing as problem solving—Simon's symbolic information processing (SIP) approach—or as a reflective practice or some other form of situated activity—the situativity (SIT) approach—we consider that, from a cognitive viewpoint, designing is most appropriately characterised as a construction of representations. After a critical discussion of the SIP and SIT approaches to design, we present our viewpoint. This presentation concerns the evolving nature of representations regarding levels of abstraction and degrees of precision, the function of external representations, and specific qualities of representation in collective design. Designing is described at three levels: the organisation of the activity, its strategies, and its design-representation construction activities (different ways to generate, transform, and evaluate representations). Even if we adopt a "generic design" stance, we claim that design can take different forms depending on the nature of the artefact, and we propose some candidates for dimensions that allow a distinction to be made between these forms of design. We discuss the potential specificity of HCI design, and the lack of cognitive design research occupied with the quality of design. We close our discussion of representational structures and activities by an outline of some directions regarding their functional linkages.

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  • Willemien Visser

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