Macroscopic analysis of design processes based on a scheme for coding designers' cognitive actions

Masaki Suwa, Terry Purcell, John Gero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

284 Citations (Scopus)


We have devised a new scheme for coding designers' cognitive actions from video/audio design protocols. Designers' actions are coded into four cognitive levels; physical, perceptual, functional and conceptual. Relations between actions belonging to different levels, such as dependencies and triggering relations, are also coded. The present scheme has two benefits. First, we found that design actions are definable in a systematic way using the vocabulary of the scheme, and thus a designer's cognitive behaviours in each of local design stages is represented as a structure composed of defined primitive actions. This is expected to lay the foundation for microscopic analyses of how particular types of actions contribute to the formation of key design ideas. Second, this scheme is suitable for macroscopic analyses of how designers cognitively interact with their own sketches. We examined, for a practising architect, the ways in which drawing, inspection of drawings, perception, and functional thoughts correlated with one another in his design process. The findings suggest that design sketches serve not only as external memory or as a provider of visual cues for association of non-visual information, but also as a physical setting in which design thoughts are constructed on the fly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-483
Number of pages29
JournalDesign Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1998 Oct
Externally publishedYes


  • Design cognition
  • Design processes
  • Protocol analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Architecture
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Engineering
  • General Social Sciences
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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