Are their designs iterative or fixated? Investigating design patterns from student digital footprints in computer-aided design software

  • Helen Z. ZhangEmail author
  • Charles Xie
  • Saeid Nourian


This paper investigates iteration and fixation in design by mining digital footprints left by designers. High school students used computer-aided design software to create buildings in an urban area, with the goal of applying passive solar design techniques to ensure optimal solar gains of the buildings throughout a year. Students were required to complete three different designs. Fine-grained data including design actions, intermediate artifacts, and reflection notes were logged. Computational analytics programs were developed to mine the logs through three indicators: (a) frequency of the action of using energy analysis tools; (b) solar performance of the final designs; and (c) difference in solar performance between the prototype and final designs. Triangulating results from the indicators suggests three types of iteration—efficacious, inadequate and ineffective. Over half of the participants were detected as being efficacious iterative during the first design and becoming more and more fixated toward the end of the project, which resonates with previous findings on fixation effect among college students and professional designers. Overall the results demonstrate the power of applying computational analytics to investigate complex design processes. Findings from this work shed light on how to quantitatively assess and research student performance and processes during design projects.


Design fixation Iterative design Computer-aided design Computational analytics Design patterns 



This work presented in this manuscript is based upon work supported by the USA National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant DUE #1348530. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology, Lynch School of EducationBoston CollegeChestnut HillUSA
  2. 2.The Concord ConsortiumConcordUSA

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