Design ideation stage: an investigation into the act of sketching and mental imagery in novice designers

  • Mia Ardiati TEDJOSAPUTRO

Student thesis: PhD Thesis


This PhD project embarks on a journey to investigate how novice designers behave during the idea generation stage. It is the first stage when a designer becomes aware of design briefs or requirements. Key results are presented briefly. In general the study confirms that sketching provides better assistance in comparison to mental imagery. These results are unsurprising, however in three out of six phenomena were supported in mental imagery sessions as effectively as in sketching sessions. This study also suggests differences between interplays of mind-body environment in described sketching and mental imagery sessions. Common patterns and operational design actions in specific design intentions and sub-intentions are presented. In addition, this study suggests similarities between architecture and product design in terms of idea generation processes. The results challenge previous studies by making contributions to the observed research gap: the role of internal and external representations in novice designers with fewer previously-generated and ready-to-be-deployed solutions; and relative advantages between design environments (with and without externalisations). This study adds knowledge in the design cognition and process field through the view of designing as embodied experience. The scope of this PhD is the design ideation stage and is limited to the design process, leaving aside design outcomes. To explore this, three design conditions were investigated: 1) sketching condition, when designers were allowed to sketch on provided special paper for a pen-and-paper based smartpen for 45 minutes, 2) mental imagery condition, when designers were blindfolded for 35 minutes whilst generating ideas and were able to externalise final proposals on the special paper for the last 10 minutes, and 3) the placebo condition for the control group participants. The rationale for this research is laid out as follows. Firstly, the use of external representations and internal representations specifically in design processes is always assumed, and is not thoroughly understood. Secondly, identified challenges in terms of computational support in automation and augmentation of design actions posited the need to have a better understanding on how tacit qualitative knowledge is manipulated. These two notions provided the impetus for this research. The aim of this study is to provide empirical evidence of how internal and external representations are intertwined. A comparative study of the processes between sketching and mental imagery design conditions is examined in research question 1. This study stands out in terms of comparison to previous empirical studies since it also investigates the interplaying roles between internal and external processes, in research question 2. Observations of differences and similarities between architecture and product design disciplines shape exploration of research question 3. Theoretical lenses such as creative cognition and embodied cognition are considered as useful frameworks within which to describe the creative processes. With regard to method; a variant of experimental research- a quasi-experiment method- was used. In total there were 12 participants contributing to 24 design sessions, each session lasting 45 minutes. Verbal data was extracted, segmented and encoded from think-aloud sessions. Utterances were analysed with the help of a newly devised coding scheme elaborating processes distributed between mind, body and environment. An open access online program was developed by the researcher to aid data visualisations, producing three different types of graph and basic statistics. Contributions are made to design pedagogy by highlighting the introduction of mental imagery as an effective cognitive tool as early as introducing sketches. In terms of design practice, it highlights mental imagery as an alternative quick idea generation cognitive tool and the possibility to extend the study into a real life design setting in practice. In design research, apart from the real life design setting as a future agenda, this project also contributes to understanding the basic mechanisms of internal and external processes to suggest computational support, the possibility to expand investigations to other types of design strategies and tools (physical model making, digital models, digital sketching, augmented reality or virtual reality headsets), and contributes to the embodied creativity subject on viewing creativity using the embodied cognition lens. The main limitations of the study are: the small number of design sessions, scarcity of previous empirical design studies addressing situatedness of designers, and the laboratory based experiments which limit explorations to the experiment room. Overall, this study provides ground work for studies related to the internal and external processes of designers. Also, it highlights the importance of examining feedback loops between these processes, a view to which traditional cognitive science does not ascribe. The key of the embodied cognition is the interaction between mind-body-environment and it is time that design studies consider design cognition beyond the designers' mind.
Date of Award10 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Univerisity of Nottingham
SupervisorYi Teng Shih (Supervisor), Chantelle Niblock (Supervisor) & Patrick Pradel (Supervisor)


  • design cognition
  • protocol analysis
  • design behaviour
  • embodied cognition
  • sketching
  • mental imagery
  • design ideation
  • conceptual design

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