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Processing of grid-based design representations: a qualitative analysis of concurrent think-aloud protocols


The squared paper or graphs are grid-based design representations used in engineering, industrial and craft design practices wherein designs are drawn over symmetrical grids. This paper reports grid-processing strategies undertaken by actors in a native craft practice, viz. Kashmiri carpet-weaving having three task contexts: (1) design, wherein designs are drawn on graph sheets and color scheme given by assigning practice-specific symbolic codes to the motifs by designers; (2) coding, wherein a cryptic script, called talim, is generated from these encoded graphs by talim-writers; and (3) weaving, wherein this script is read, decoded and communicated in an equally cryptic trade-language by weavers among their teams. 32 video-recorded think-aloud sessions were conducted with talim-writers to understand their graph-processing and resultant coding strategies. The observations and qualitative analysis of transcripts revealed highly situated strategies undertaken by experts keen on imbibing visuality of design embedded in the grids, in contrast to embodied strategies undertaken by less-experienced coders keen on processing grids’ structural features and getting overwhelmed by grid-clutter in the process. In this landscape, the findings revealed a negotiated nature of errors instead of being deviations from the underlying grid and thereby objectively assessable. The paper makes recommendations for CAD systems to include more of those grid features exploited by experts during their graph processing to facilitate designers.

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Data availability

The study being conducted in a sensitive conflict area, the data cannot be uploaded on public repositories.


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I am grateful to the International Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Human Sciences (ICIRHS) at Laurentian University, Canada for providing me requisite research environment to conduct this research. I am further grateful to Homi Bhabha Fellowships Council, Mumbai for funding this work and Homi Bhabha Centre For Science Education (HBCSE), Mumbai (both in India) for providing me the research facilities during 2017–19. Part of data collection, partly funded, was done as Postdoctoral Associate at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru (India) during 2015–17. I am thankful to Abdul Rashid Bhat (Srinagar, India) for permitting me to reproduce the design extract in the paper. I am thankful to all the code writers who gave their time and participated in the think-aloud sessions reported in this paper and permitted me to reproduce their codes and pictures. Thanks are also due to an anonymous reviewer to an early version of this manuscript for referring me to the works of Ellen Harlizius-Kluck and Prof. Ken Friedman for making some of the papers available to me.


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Correspondence to Gagan Deep Kaur.

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Kaur, G.D. Processing of grid-based design representations: a qualitative analysis of concurrent think-aloud protocols. AI & Soc (2021).

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  • Grid
  • Design
  • Coding
  • Talim
  • Expertise
  • Kashmiri Carpet-Weaving