How Do Interruptions During Designing Affect Design Cognition?

Conference paper


This paper reports an experimental study exploring how interruptions during designing affect designers’ cognition. The results are from studying 14 teams of two undergraduate computer science students. In an experiment with three conditions, each team completed three software design tasks of comparable complexity and scope. The first condition captured designers’ activities without interruptions, which served as a baseline for comparison with the other two conditions that explicitly incorporated two interruptive tasks. Design activities of all three conditions were videoed and analyzed utilizing an ontologically-based protocol analysis coding scheme. Inter-experiment comparisons showed that the design cognition of interrupted sessions were significantly different from the uninterrupted sessions, with increased cognitive efforts expended on generative aspect of designing, and decreased efforts on analytic and evaluative aspects. These differences could be accounted for by a strategic compensation, i.e., designers shifted their problem-solving strategies to make up for the interferences produced by interruptions.


Design Activity Design Issue Cognitive Effort Structure Issue Design Cognition 
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.



This research is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos IIS-10020709 and CMMI-1161715. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Computer Science and School of ArchitectureUniversity of North CarolinaCharlotteUSA
  2. 2.Zhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  3. 3.George Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  4. 4.University of North CarolinaCharlotteUSA

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