Mental imagery in program design and visual programming

  • Petre M
  • Blackwell A
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There is widespread anecdotal evidence that expert programmers make use of visual mental images when they are designing programs. This evidence is used to justify the use of diagrams and visual programming languages during software design. This paper reports the results of two studies. In the first, expert programmers were directly questioned regarding the nature of their mental representations while they were engaged in a design task. This investigative technique was used with the explicit intention of eliciting introspective reports of mental imagery. In the second, users of a visual programming language responded to a questionnaire in which they were asked about cognitive processes. The resulting transcripts displayed a considerable number of common elements. These suggests that software design shares many characteristics of more concrete design disciplines. The reports from participants in the two studies, together with previous research into imagery use, indicate potential techniques for further investigation of software development support tools and design strategies.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Cognitive systems
  • Computer programming languages
  • Computer systems programming
  • Software engineering
  • Visual programming

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  • M Petre

  • A F Blackwell

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