Knowledge distribution and the effect of design tools on the design process

Mina Tahsiri, Jonathan Hale, Chantelle Niblock

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution book


This paper compares the cognitive performance of architecture students when designing tasks using one of the three design tools: pencil and paper, software Sketch Up and Rhinoceros 3D. It questions if a design tool can affect when knowledge is generated and used in the duration of design activity. This is explored through a protocol ‘think aloud’ study for which a new coding scheme was developed. The methodology is grounded on the theory of Distributed Cognition and Zhang and Norman’s (Cognit Sci 18(1):87–122, 1994) method of ‘representational analysis’, based on which, knowledge is either ‘internal’ in that it is actively memorized by the designer or is ‘external’ in that it is implicitly made available via a stimuli like a design tool. Using an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test, for the five participants of this study, external knowledge generated significantly earlier on within the process when using Sketch Up compared to the other two tools.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesign Computing and Cognition '16
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9783319449883
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jan 2017


  • design process
  • design tool
  • external knowledge
  • task space
  • knowledge distribution


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