SGER: Understanding the Role of Impasses and Representation Changes in Creative Design: An Initial Study

Submitted by NSFAdmin on

Award Number: 

This small grant for exploratory research (SGER), that is funded by Engineering Design and Cognitive Psychology, will begin to explore significant aspects of the cognitive basis for creative design. Initial work is based on a premise that one mechanism for creative design comes from the restriction of search in a problem space representation due to a constraint, known as an impasse. The impasse prevents search to a satisfactory solution, requiring a change in the representation that is used as a model of the design problem search space. The purpose of this seed grant is to investigate how changes in representation that enable the overcoming of impasses are generated. This one-year seed proposal provides initial work toward uncovering the potential interleaving of cognitive reasoning mechanisms for creative problem solving and innovative design processes. The long-term goal is to use this understanding to improve the innovation process through better tools and methods that stimulate human creativity, or provide a platform for computer design tools that advise the innovation process.
The intellectual merit of this work is a deeper understanding of how people overcome significant hurdles in creative problem solving -- how people find the aha that helps them solve difficult design problems that lead to new innovations. The broader impact of this work is the improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness in the innovation process by better understanding the mechanisms of thought that lead to innovations and developing tools to augment that process.
Two research tasks will be pursued in this seed grant. One is a cognitive science approach that seeks to uncover the basic mechanisms of overcoming impasses. The second seeks to uncover a model of how representation change is done during the design process. The basic investigation will be of how idea generation is affected by exposure to environmental stimuli (hints) and what the underlying cognitive control mechanisms are. The second research task will be to study how people change representation during the conceptual design process. This task will use protocol analysis and design traces to analyze what people's representation is at any given time during the design process, how it changes and why, and whether it iterates. This work will explore how representations are changed due to impasses. The expected outcome is to create a framework and the initial findings to pursue in a longer-term research project.

Principal Investigator: 
Jonathan Cagan
Carnegie-Mellon University
PI Email Address:
Co-PI Name(s): 
Kenneth Kotovsky
NSF Organization: 
NSF Directorate: 
Start Date: 
Jul, 01 2006
Last Amendment Date: 
Jun, 18 2007
Expiration Date: 
Dec, 31 2007
Award Instrument: 
Standard Grant
Program Manager: 
Judy M. Vance
Awarded Amount To Date: 
Organization Street: 
5000 Forbes Avenue
Organization City: 
Organization State: 
Organization Zip: 
Organization Phone: 
Program Element Code(s): 
1464, 7626
Program Reference Code(s): 
068E, 9148, 9237, MANU
ARRA Amount: