Research Report

Cognitive Processing

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 255-272

First online:

Cognitive tools shape thought: diagrams in design

  • Jeffrey V. NickersonAffiliated withCenter for Decision Technologies, Stevens Institute of Technology Email author 
  • , James E. CorterAffiliated withDepartment of Human Development, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • , Barbara TverskyAffiliated withDepartment of Human Development, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • , Yun-Jin RhoAffiliated withDepartment of Human Development, Teachers College, Columbia UniversityPearson Education
  • , Doris ZahnerAffiliated withCenter for Decision Technologies, Stevens Institute of TechnologyCouncil for Aid to Education
  • , Lixiu YuAffiliated withCenter for Decision Technologies, Stevens Institute of TechnologyHuman-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

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Abstract

Thinking often entails interacting with cognitive tools. In many cases, notably design, the predominant tool is the page. The page allows externalizing, organizing, and reorganizing thought. Yet, the page has its own properties that by expressing thought affect it: path, proximity, place, and permanence. The effects of these properties were evident in designs of information systems created by students Paths were interpreted as routes through components. Proximity was used to group subsystems. Horizontal position on the page was used to express temporal sequence and vertical position to reflect real-world spatial position. The permanence of designs on the page guided but also constrained generation of alternative designs. Cognitive tools both reflect and affect thought.

Keywords

Diagrammatic reasoning Design Creativity Cognitive tool Affordance Spatial thinking Information systems design