Quantifying Coherent Thinking in Design: A Computational Linguistics Approach

  • Andy Dong
Conference paper


Design team conversations reveal their thinking patterns and behaviour because participants must communicate their thoughts to others through verbal communication. This article describes a method based on latent semantic analysis for measuring the coherence of their communication in a conversation mode and how this measurement also reveals patterns of interrelations between an individual’s ideas and the group’s ideas. While similar studies have been done on design documentation, it was unclear whether computational techniques that have been applied to communication in text could be successfully applied to communication in a conversational mode. Transcripts of four engineering/product design teams communicating in a synchronous, conversational mode during a design session were studied. Based on the empirical results and the proposition that a team’s verbal communication offers a fairly direct path to their thinking processes, the article proposes the link between coherent conversations and coherent thinking.


Singular Value Decomposition Design Team Latent Semantic Analysis Design Cognition Design Session 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bakhtin, MM: 1981, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin, Holquist, M (ed), Holquist, M and Emerson, C (trans.), University ofTexas Press, Austin, TX.Google Scholar
  2. Bucciarelli, L: 1994, Designing Engineers, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Clark, HH and Schaefer, EF: 1987, Collaborating on contributions to conversation, Language and Cognitive Processes 2: 19–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Deerwester, S, Dumais ST, Furnas, GW and Landauer, TK: 1990, Indexing by latent semantic analysis, Journal of the American Society For Information Science 41(6): 391–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ericsson, KA and Simon, HA: 1993, Protocol Analysis: Verbal Reports as Data, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  6. Dong, A, Hill, A and Agogino, A: 2004, A document analysis technique for characterizing design team performance, Journal of Mechanical Design (to appear).Google Scholar
  7. Foltz, PW, Kintsch, W and Landauer, TK: 1998, The measurement of textual coherence with latent semantic analysis, Discourse Processes 25(2&3): 285–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hill, A, Song, S, Dong, A and Agogino, AM: 2001, Identifying shared understanding in design using document analysis, Proceedings of the 2001 ASME Design Engineering Technical Conferences, Pittsburgh, PA, DETC2001 /DTM-21713.Google Scholar
  9. Hill, A, Dong, A and Agogino, AM: 2002, Towards computational tools for supporting the reflective team, in Gero, JS (ed), Artiifiicial Intelligence in Design ’02, Kluwer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, pp. 305–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cross, N, Christiaans, H and Dorst, K: 1996, Analysing Design Activity, New York, Chichester.Google Scholar
  11. Hutchins, E: 1995, Cognition in the Wild, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  12. Landauer, TK, Foltz, PW and Laham, D: 1998, Introduction to latent semantic analysis, Discourse Processes 25: 259–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Landauer, TK, Laham, D and Foltz, PW: (2000, The intelligent essay assessor, IEEE Intelligent Systems and Their Applications 15(5): 27–31.Google Scholar
  14. Landuaer, TK: 1999, Latent semantic analysis: A theory of the psychology of language and mind, Discourse Processes 27(3): 303–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lawson, B: 1997, How Designers Think, Architectural Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  16. Mabogunje, A and Leifer, LJ: 1997, Noun phrases as surrogates for measuring early phases of the mechanical design process, Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Design Theory and Methodology, Sacramento, CA.Google Scholar
  17. Milne, A and Winograd, T: 2003, The iLoft project: A technologically advanced collaborative design workspace as research instrument, Proceedings of the 13th Annual Intenational Conference on Engineering Design (ICED03), Stockholm, Sweden.Google Scholar
  18. Quillian MR: 1968, Semantic Memory, in J Minsky (ed), Semantic Information Processing, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.Google Scholar
  19. Schön, DA: 1987, Educating the Reflective Practitioner, Jossey-Bass, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  20. Shapiro, AM and McNamara, DS: 2000, The use of latent semantic analysis as a tool for the quantitative assessment of understanding and knowledge, Journal of Educational Computing Research 22(1): 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Song, S, Dong, A and Agogino, AM: 2003, Time variation of “story telling” in engineering design teams, in A Folkeson, K Gralen, M Norell & U Sellgren (eds), Research for Practice: Innovation in Products, Processes and Organisations, Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Engineering Design, Stockholm, Sweden, The Design Society.Google Scholar
  22. Stanford JavaNLP Project. Retrieved from on February 2, 2004.
  23. Stempfle, J ( (2004, 22 January), Group 3, E-mail to Andy Dong ( Scholar
  24. Stempfle, J and Badke-Schaub, P: 2002, Thinking in design teams — an analysis of team communication. Design Studies 23: 473–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Tang, JC and Leifer, LJ: 1998, A framework for understanding the workspace activities of designers, Proceedings of the 1988 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, ACM Press, New York pp. 244–249.Google Scholar
  26. Valkenburg, R and Dorst, K: 1998, The reflective practice of design teams. Design Studies 19: 249–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Vygotsky, LS: 1978, Mind in Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  28. Wertsch, J: 1991, Voices of the Mind, A Sociocultural Approach to Mediated Action, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andy Dong
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations