Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Week 11: Cognitive artifacts and visual reasoning

Moving to a more situated cognition perspective - we are going to delve into what people call "cognitive artifacts" - e.g., artifacts through which people create meaning or interact with a situations "back-talk". While there are many ways to imagine a role for cognitive artifacts in design situations, we're going to primarily focus on the use of representations in design. The Fish and Scrivener piece delves into visual cognition, while the Cardella et al and Blanco papers give two examples in design settings. I added a very short reading on the idea of "evocative objects" as something to help you experience the idea of objects as...cognitive.
  • Fish, J and Scrivener, S. A. (1990) Amplifying the mind’s eye: Sketching and visual cognition. Leonardo, 23, 117-126. What are the "special attributes of sketching" as it relates to cognition (memory, reasoning, invention, etc.)? How might this play out in design situations?
  • Cardella, M., Atman, C.J. and Adams, R. (2006). Mapping between design activities and external representations for engineering student designers. Design Studies, 27, pp. 5-24. How are representations used in design? How does this relate to behaviors we associate with "high quality" designs?
  • Blanco, E. (2003). "Rough Drafts: Revealing and Mediating Design.” In D. Vinck (ed), Everyday Engineering: An Ethnography of Design and Innovation. Cambridge: MIT Press. What kinds of representations do designers create to help them design, and how do they use them (for what purpose)? How does Blanco make sense of this through a "cognitive artifact" lens?
  • Turkle, S. (2007). Evocative Objects: Things We Think With. Cambridge: MIT Press. Think of a particular object that has significance for you. For example, it may be something you use everday or something you reference as an important memory or "way of thinking". What is that object and what meaning does it hold for you? How does this help you imagine the role of cognitive artifacts in design?


§adieLovingtonNibblesworth said...

Hey everybody! Before I post my comments on this week's readings, I just wanted to send a friendly link to an influential artist in modern art who happens to be very good with sketch and design - - if you are ever in NYC, you should visit the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.

CJ said...

Fish, et al describes several “special attributes of sketches,” which relate to cognition. One of these attributes suggested by the authors is that “sketches have the important function of assisting the mind to translate descriptive propositional information into depiction” (118). One way that sketches are able to do this is by using two-dimensional systems to represent three-dimensional systems. When a viewer sees a sketch, it may provoke a visual experience similar to that of the associated object or scene represented in the sketch.

Also, sketches are sometimes drawn incomplete (with missing lines or only select lines present). The authors describe this in two different ways, one in terms of attention and the other in terms of preserving alternatives. As a sketcher is drawing, he is not only thinking about how to represent the ideas he has in his mind, but attention is also given to his hand movements and the information being processed from what he is seeing. The other reason for “indeterminacies” in sketches is “the need to preserve alternatives.” The article states “it was Leonardo da Vinci who first described and advocated the deliberate use of such untidy indeterminacies to stimulate invention, pointing out that ‘confused things rouse the mind to new inventions’” (120).

Each of these attributes is also a part of sketching in design situations. Sketches in design are often vague/undefined because the designer does not know fully what the part or full design will look like, but has only an initial idea. It is highly possible that these indeterminacies leave the design open for alternatives, and often when using a sketch in a team discussion the sketch is not only intended to provide a simple 2D representation of a 3D object, but is also used to provoke alternative ideas.

In the article by Cardella, et al, ‘representational activities’ are described as “activities using external representations of information – problem statements, diagrams, written responses created by the students and equations in addition to sketches” (6). Representations are used in design for communicating ideas, stimulating ideas, and advancing through the design process.

Several relationships may be found between representations and behaviors associated with “high quality” design. First, representations encourage generating alternative solutions. Representations may also be used for problem scoping and problem definition, which we have discussed as being an important behavior that contributes to higher quality designs. While, as stated in the article, “to date there are few design measures that predict quality of solution,” we have seen evidence that some behaviors and activities may contribute to better design outcomes. The findings from this article help support those notions by presenting evidence from a slightly different perspective.

Blanco presents five different categories for the types of representations which designers use: texts and diagrams, sketches, overall drawings, definition drawings, and models. The purposes of each of these types of representations may vary, but in general it was found that designers have a somewhat organized order of their use.

First, texts and diagrams are mainly used at the beginning of the design. They help to clarify and somewhat solidify the problem definition. Next, sketches and models are used, primarily during concept generation. They are used to express ideas, and as previously mentioned in the other articles, to stimulate new ideas. These representations may also be used in decision-making. The author states, however, that “the efficiency of these objects as memory aids in not necessarily proportional to their role in the process” (195), claiming that the team had trouble reconsidering the reasons behind a decision that was made when they tried to use one of the earlier “objects” or representations. In the final phases of the design, the author claims that overall drawings are produced, and then finally detail drawings (or definition/part drawings).

Another use of these objects is that they serve as markers or transitions in the process between design stages. Blanco describes the cognitive aspects of representations/objects by stating that, “by relieving people of a certain number of tasks, cognitive artifacts help to structure their users’ activities” (186). He also describes the role that representations play in memory.

I think I have taken up enough space on the blog for this week, so I am going to leave my discussion of “Evocative Objects” for class.

§adieLovingtonNibblesworth said...

The theme presented by Robin is one of cognitive processes in design as manifested by the existence of objects and the use of objects by human beings. I am going to cover these themes in all but the Cardella paper since I've read that one about twenty times in the past, five months.

Blanco brings forth two interesting ideas concerning objects and cognition: the seemingly linear transition from one object to another object within the design/drafting process; and the way which certain members of the design team lay out the pathway for a transition to occur. This linearity is first mention on page 180, but continues throughout the paper. The strict exceptions mentioned on page 180 to the non-abandonment of an object pertain to the specifications and the list of functions the object must perform.

One thing that was similar between the Blanco work and the work of Valkenburg was in the identification of transition states. Blanco noted that a transition state could only be identified after the nature of the objects had been identified, whereas Valkenburg noted that a frame could only be identified once coders witnessing a design process saw it. Both of these examples speak to the concept of the inability to break down a new, design problem into a discrete set of symbolic expressions without a priori knowledge of the system.

To reference the work of Fish, Fish focuses for a while on the "preattentive" processes of the mind on page 119 and then expands into the tug-of-war between precepts and mental images. I don't see a strong link in the reading between the preattentive cognitice faculties and transition states between objects, but it would appear that both of these concepts are subtly exploring boundary-space in different ways. The ramifications of Fish's work in the lens of Blanco would mean that the mind is capable of constructing the concept of the object from what has been perceived of an object (such as a partial view or conception). The question to answer here is "to what extent does the mind project the concept of a 'whole' object unto the object at hand when making a judgment on a transition state?"

Turkle brings forth the concepts of the object as the extension of the self, the fact that we love the objects we think with. She is exploring the opening and closing of mental spaces by objects. In a way, she is combining some concepts present in all of the readings, as I discuss below.

A surprising connection between Turkle and Blanco is that Blanco states on page 194 that objects play a role as temporal mediators and as memory aids. This is directly related to Turkle's concept of the object we love as something we think with.

Both Turkle and Blanco would resound well with Hunt, in the sense that Hunt's view of cognition is the memory as a state and as a store. In the role of an object as a memory aid, it is the object as store. In the role of the object as a temporal placeholder, it is the object as state.

Aidsa said...

Fish’s special attributes of sketching: include: (1) sketches “use abbreviated two dimensional sign systems to represent three-dimensional visual experience” by either (a) using culturally acquired descriptive meanings for lines in drawings, or (b) because sketches provoke visual experience associated to the scene presented; (2) sketches “contain selective and fragmentary information” or representational formats compatible for its intended audience; (3) sketches “contain deliberate or accidental indeterminacies that are important to their function” because there are needed to preserve alternatives. I believe these attributes relate to engineering design situations in several ways. For example, in engineering designers have established certain “symbols” (two dimensional representations) that represent certain fixtures such as windows, resistors, machines, etc.; that are understood by those that are involved in the process.

Cardellas’s et al paper presents a peculiar aspect of design. They were trying to understand designer’s thinking process (cognitively speaking) while solving a problem. They used representational activities throughout the design process and their effect in that process. There is evidence from the analysis performed that: sketching supports every design activity and communication, sketches are important in the progression of the design process. Specifically they found representational activities that relate to each one of the design steps applied in this study: Problem Scoping – looking at given text and creation of sketches; Developing Alternative Solutions - looking at given text, creation of sketches, and looking at sketches. The authors also made a nice connection of their findings to instruction. Their instructional implications include: (1) teaching students to make calculations require the presentation of material based on modeling a design solution; (2) encourage students to make design decisions requires the use of problem statements and textual information as well as looking at sketches already created; (3) help students practice feasibility analysis by presenting visual representations (diagrams) in addition to a written problem statement.

During the design process studied by Blanco, he categorized the design objects as follows: texts and diagrams, sketches, overall drawings, definition drawings, and models. In general, these objects tend to emerge one after the other and replaced each other, overlapping existed only when one object was used to create another, texts and diagrams were used mainly at the beginning of the process, followed by sketches, then overall drawings, and detailed drawings. The design phases established were problem appropriation, establishment of the basic solution, solution definition, and detailed definition of parts. Some objects created a transition from one phase to another; such objects were considered as boundaries. For instance in the problem appropriation phase, participants spent most of the time analyzing requirements and functions (as expected). It was guided by the “function” person and the objects produced where texts such as specifications, diagrams of functions, and a list of functions. Graphical objects represented the conclusion of the phase. The establishment of a basic solution phase (second phase) was guided by the “structure” person. The objects developed included sketches of a basic solution, and a model using plastic cups and a book. In this phase it was identified the use of a variety of formalism in engineering drawings. The solution designing phase (third phase) was guided by the “structure” person. The objects created included sketches plans based on rules of engineering drawings. The discussions were focused on the graphical objects developed. The last phase, detailed definition of parts, was guided by the “structure” and “manufacturing” person. By keeping manufacturing requirements in mind, they developed detailed plan of various parts and a perspective drawing.

Turkle defined as evocative objects or objects with rich connections to daily lives as well as intellectual practice. She established that they should follow the following associations: where does it take you; what do you feel; what are you able to understand. In my case, graphical representations help me cognitively in several ways. I can understand better the problem presented and the possible solutions to be evaluated. It helps me to situate myself in the specific scenario presented. For example, when my husband and I decided to construct our house, the first thing we did was to draw the spaces we felt were required and assigned dimensions to them. Then we decided for an appropriate layout according to our limitations or restrictions. The next step involved the design of the exteriors. Once the floor plans were designed and there was consensus, we placed them in a place we could see all the time. It felt that it was there, approachable. When the house was under construction, I was able to visualize every step of the process and notice every discrepancies or deviations from the floor plans. When the house was completed, it looked just “the way we imagined it”. It was like a dream come true. I believe this is what the authors in all papers have in common with respect to cognitive artifacts. They are an essential part of the design process, because they make designers think about the process and decisions that are made.

celia said...

Lots of thoughts here already!
A very short generalization: Sketches reflect mental manipulation and will in turn change the mental images; sketches act as representations in design process; they would also evoke one’s memory, emotion, help generate ideas. More importantly, sketches offer us another way to explore design:)