ArticlePDF Available

Externalisation and design


Abstract and Figures

External representations are ubiquitous in design from blue-foam models, to formal requirements documents. This paper seeks to explicate the role of externalisation in the light of literature in philosophy, psychology, and design practice. The apparent conflict between theories of embodiment, which emphasises tacit action, and the ideal of reflective practice is resolved in a rich interplay between tacit and explicit knowledge and reasoning. By understanding the kinds of external representation in design their properties, and functions, we are able to make sense of tools and techniques for reflection and creativity and we hope ultimately improve them and design itself.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Externalisation and Design
Alan Dix
, Layda Gongora
Lancaster University
Lancaster, LA1 4AW, UK
43 Temple Row
Birmingham, B2 5LS, UK,
External representations are ubiquitous in design from
blue-foam models, to formal requirements documents.
This paper seeks to explicate the role of externalisation in
the light of literature in philosophy, psychology, and design
practice. The apparent conflict between theories of
embodiment, which emphasises tacit action, and the ideal
of reflective practice is resolved in a rich interplay between
tacit and explicit knowledge and reasoning. By
understanding the kinds of external representation in design
their properties, and functions, we are able to make sense of
tools and techniques for reflection and creativity and we
hope ultimately improve them and design itself.
design, embodiment, reflective practice, external
In this paper we seek to unpack different forms of
externalisation and in particular the role it plays in design.
Ethnographies often emphasise shared representations as
enablers of collaboration. External representations are also
central to distributed cognition, where they act to augment
of processing or memory, and in philosophical theories of
embodiment. Furthermore, we all make use of notes and
calendars, wall-planners and blogs; and even this paper acts
as a critical externalisation of the authors' own thinking.
Externalisation is ubiquitous and important to understand
as it is often a critical part of the domains we study in
designing for interaction. However, it is also central in the
process of design itself, as evidenced by blue-foam models,
architectural plans and UML diagrams; and furthermore to
our own intellectual processes as researchers.
What is externalisation?
We all interact with external environments and artefacts as
part of our day-to-day lives, as emphasised in various
approaches including ecological perception [25] and
situated action [54]. Often these are given by the world:
waiting for a kettle to boil, digging the earth, or the
movements and activities of those studied in field studies.
We are not isolated; being human means interacting with
the impingements and resistances of the outside world from
stones to people to computers.
Of course, we do not simply react to the external world but
actively shape it to serve our needs: building walls and
roofs for shelter, weapons for hunting and war, cars to
drive, and fields to feed.
Externalisation is the step beyond, the active shaping of the
world as an intellectual resource, maybe a uniquely human
ability and certainly the foundation of culture and
civilisation. Externalisation involves the embodiment,
representation and exploration of our own thoughts,
feelings and interior life. As we shall discuss further, this
takes many forms and serves many overlapping purposes
from communication to elaboration of our nascent ideas.
The term externalisation itself reflects a philosophical and
practical tension: it suggests both embodied interactions
with external artefacts, but also the process of making
internal representations external. In art and design this
reflects dual views of creativity as internal muse or
embodied engagement.
This paper
This paper builds on previous analysis of the practical use
of externalisation [17], and on literature on embodiment
and reflection, notably Schön's studies of different forms of
reflection [47], which is often facilitated by external
representations. We will illustrate an unfolding framework
of dimensions and categories using examples from our own
past studies, published data of others and reflective
anecdotes, which we hope will be familiar in the readers'
own experiences.
We also seek to understand the role of externalisation at a
more theoretical level. In particular, we will make use of
cognitive models that attempt to deal with both more
explicit, conscious (rational) thinking and also more tacit,
unconscious, associative processes.
By doing this we add another dualism to the
interior/exterior dualism already implicit in the term
externalisation. Both distinctions risk offending many who
work in the areas most central to our concerns, who often
seek to breakdown such distinctions and take a more
Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for
personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are
not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that
copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy
otherwise, to republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists,
requires prior specific permission and/or a fee.
DESIRE'11, October 19-21, 2011, Eindhoven, the Netherlands
Copyright © 2011 ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-0754-3... $10.00
holistic view of self and action.
However, we believe that by
making such distinctions,
however problematic and
nuanced, we are better able to
understand the whole.
This structured and theoretical
analysis will, we hope, offer grounding for more practical
interventions. However, it is part of an ongoing process;
we do not expect it to be complete and final, neither
theoretically or practically.
This paper will begin by considering some of the
theoretical roots of externalisation and reflection. This is
followed by a section focussed more on practice, and the
different forms of externalisation in design. The fourth
section discusses the kinds of interactions facilitated by
externalisation: with the world, with other people and with
oneself. Finally, we consider what externalisation does: its
functions and the way these can be enhanced in tools and
techniques for design and creativity.
Externalisation most obviously connects with theories of
embodied or external cognition, which in different ways
emphasise the role of the external environment in human
cognition. These have become popular in recent years
drawing on a number of sources.
In philosophy, Heidegger's "Being and Time" [30] and
MerleauPonty's "Phenomenology of Perception" [38] have
both been influential focusing on our unconsidered, yet
artful, interactions with the world in contrast to more
traditional dualistic/mentalistic models from Descartes
onwards that prioritised the interior self [11]. Many
modern philosophers draw on concepts of embodiment,
albeit with very different emphases, including Clark [7],
Gallagher [22] and Varela [56].
In psychology, Gibson's "The Ecological Approach to
Visual Perception" [25] suggested that perception was far
more intimately tied to action than had previously been
considered and his concept of affordance has become
heavily used within human-computer interaction (HCI)
research and user-interface design [23,28,41]. Also ideas
of embodiment are being explored within neuroscience
using a combination of traditional experimentation and
brain scanning technology to investigate to what extent
perceptions are represented directly within motor areas of
the brain [6].
Building on roots in social anthropology and
ethnomethodology respectively, the concepts of distributed
cognition [33,31] and situated action [54] have been
influential in HCI since its beginning as a discipline.
Distributed cognition emphasises that we do not simply
think in our heads, but actively use the world in 'problem
solving', for example, moving the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle
not just staring at them. Furthermore, cognition may be
socially distributed; for example
an early study examined
Peloponnesian navigators who
traverse vast areas of sea
without modern aids, yet no
single individual holds
everything in their head, instead,
through working together as a
group, navigation happens. Situated action is similar,
emphasising the way we do not come to situations with pre-
made plans, but instead work out what to do based on the
exigencies of the moment.
Most of these positions focus on the largely unconsidered
moment-to-moment interactions with the world. As we lift
a cup, or walk down the road, we are not actively and
consciously lifting our arm, or swinging our leg, we just do
it. Heidegger calls this thrownness and contrasts it with
breakdown when we become explicitly aware of the actions
we perform and tools that we use. While at one level this is
merely descriptive, there is often also an implicit or explicit
value judgement, whereby breakdown has pejorative or, at
best, undesirable connotations.
It is clear that thrownness and artful interaction is crucial
when dealing with many forms of external representation.
For example, in drama and dance, while expert improvisers
are able to reflect whilst improvising, most performers will
not move as fluidly when thinking about their own actions.
Similarly an interface designer may want to walk through
an interface as she would imagine a user will do, but, if she
thinks about what she is doing, she will simply make the
same assumptions as she did while building the prototype.
However, we will see in later sections that breakdown is
also an essential part of externalisation and reflection, and
we will present a class of practical techniques aimed at
engineering breakdown at appropriate points.
Kinds of Knowing: Tacit and Explicit
This distinction between thrownness and breakdown, can
be seen as essentially that between tacit compared with
more explicit understanding and cognition.
There are a variety of closely overlapping terms used in this
area, and the distinctions are often less hard-edged when
examined in detail. However we can characterise these
modes in terms of common attributes.
Tacit knowledge and action is unconscious, in the sense
that we act without consciously thinking about it, although
the term 'unconscious' has many Freudian connotations, so
is often avoided. Gallagher use the more neutral term pre-
noetic [22]. It is the more ancient mode of reasoning we
share largely with animals, based on associative/analogical
reasoning and builds naturally on neural mechanisms.
Learning tends to be slow requiring many examples and
trial and error, and is heavily affected by strength of
emotion. However, the slow building through multiple
exposures means tacit knowledge often has a probabilistic
nature, which we are particularly bad at consciously
"How does something that begins as an idea
or image in the mind become material?
How is the work of the hand influenced by
movements of the mind and vice versa?"
David Levi Strauss, From Head to Heart [53]
without external aids. The strength of this tacit probabilistic
learning was demonstrated in simulated gambling
experiments where participants showed galvanic skin
response to card stacks with different payoffs well before
they were able to explicitly distinguish them [2].
Tacit knowledge tends to be relational rather than
categorical/denotational, however that is not to say there is
no categorisation. As is evident in Lakoff 's work [34],
categorisation of some sort is essential for associative
thinking, otherwise we could not generalise from past
actions. However, associative 'categories' may be more
soft-edged bundles of related things that tend to activate
together that is no 'grandmother' neuron ... even though
there is a 'grandmother' word.
In contrast explicit knowledge and action, is consciously
available, we know we are doing it. It tends to be more
rational/logical and based on discrete categories that are
typically associated with words. Indeed there is a close
relationship between this kind of thinking and language;
however, while language appears to be necessary for
'higher' thought (as is evident from wild children brought
up with no language), it is also evident that we are not
limited to thinking within the existing vocabulary [12].
Furthermore, the categories of explicit thought, while being
available for discussion, are often based as much on fuzzy
(tacit) connotations as on precise denotations. While
learning itself is tacit (we cannot simply tell ourselves
'remember'), explicit conscious thinking tends to lead to
single-example learning through abduction or other forms
of reasoning. The associative learning of tacit knowledge
is old/primitive; in contrast explicit reasoning is a uniquely
or at least largely human attribute. From a computational
view, it builds awkwardly upon the neural substrate, which
is naturally associative, and must be very expensive in
terms of brain capacity used. This 'hardware' cost suggests
that has been of considerable value in our development as a
Working together
While there are contrasts between the tacit and explicit, we
should avoid simplistic dualism. Different philosophical
approaches prioritise one or the other, and popular
literature is full of advice on how to 'turn off' more rational
decision processes to let intuition take prime place [20, 26].
However, we are not schizophrenic with Jekyll and Hyde
personalities vying for control, but rather both kinds of
thinking contribute to our cognitive makeup.
Proponents of embodiment emphasise the way that what we
think of consciously, what springs to mind, is not under
conscious control; it is pre-noetic [22]. Similarly, while the
interpretations are not unproblematic, Libet's frequently
cited experiments show that certain actions we might have
thought were under conscious decision making are in fact
'already decided' unconsciously before we are aware of
them [35]. While framed in terms of 'free will', the actions
studied in these experiment, spontaneous but arbitrary hand
movement, are at best peripheral to any core idea of
personal choice. However, even these experiments show
that the conscious mind gets a chance to 'veto' unconscious
action; hence it has been argued we don't have 'free will',
but do have 'free won't' [42].
Complex emotions often involve a combination of more
logical/rational thinking and unconscious processes. For
example, when experiencing regret one makes a complex
counter-factual assessment of what would have happened if
one had acted differently and how likely this would have
been to lead to a different result. However, this complex
processing drives an emotional response and hence
subconscious associative learning [14].
In a deep review and critique of the psychological
embodiment literature, Wilson presents a rich picture [57]
where, on the one hand, pure embodied (and tacit)
explanations fail to account for common cognitive
activities such as planning, yet, on the other hand, virtually
all aspects of 'pure' cognitive activity, from memory to
reasoning are found to have physical/bodily aspects at play.
This mixing of unconscious and conscious is also common
in design where ideas seem to come to mind without
conscious thought, yet are evaluated, critiqued and
developed in a more rational mind.
Breakdown and Reflection
As has been noted, breakdown gets a bad press in the
embodiment literature. However, this seems to be the heart
of the reflective practice that is seen as the ideal in Schön's
work [47]. Schön describes three levels of expert knowing:
knowing in action, reflection in action, and reflection on
action. However, all of these, Schö n is keen to point out,
differ from abstracted bodies of knowledge applied
acontextually to problems in what he terms 'Technical
The first kind, knowing in action, is not unlike thrownness:
referring to knowing that is "ordinarily tacit" and "implicit
in our patterns of action". This lived knowledge involves
"innumerable judgements of quality" without criteria that
can be explicitly stated and skills without explicit rules or
procedures. In terms reminiscent of Heidegger, Schön says
our "knowing is in our action" [47, p.49].
However, the professional does not stop there, but engages
in reflection in action monitoring and becoming explicitly
aware of the situation and "the prior understandings which
have been implicit in his behaviour", being open to
"surprise, puzzlement or confusion" [47, p.68]. This is, in
Heideggerian terms, clearly breakdown, yet regarded by
Schön as constructive, allowing the professional to attain
This mix of conscious and unconscious, rational and associative,
thinking is used in the 'principle of least regret'. Normally when
making a decision, one considers how good each course would
be and weighs these up. Instead one can envisage having taken
each action and imagine the regret felt at not having done the
alternatives you choose the action with least regret.
deeper understanding of the situation and step out of
unproductive blockages.
Finally, the most successful professionals engage in
'reflection on action', long-term growth through reflecting
on practices and processes. This is far rarer than knowing
in action or reflection in action indeed Schön sees a
weakness in many practical management schools because
managers "have little access to their own reflection in
action" [47, p.243], and therefore cannot pass on this
knowledge to others.
The Ubiquity of Externality
External representations are ubiquitous in design and all
creative endeavours.
In architecture, we see plans, models, and also formal
procedures of consultations and deliverables to clients. In
product design we also see sketches and, because the end
product is human scale, full-scale mock-ups in blue foam,
cardboard or 3D printing, culminating in many cases, with
the production-line mould. In addition, both disciplines use
CAD and other forms of simulation or virtual walkthrough,
as do various kinds of engineers.
Some artists, particularly painters and sculptors, have no
external representation other than the nascent form of the
ultimate product. However, many employ some form of
sketch and may use mood boards or other means to
familiarise themselves with the emotional and physical
aspects of a brief.
Outside the visual arts it is common for the output of the
artist to be some form of intermediate representation (book
or score) before the actual performance of the work
(reading, or playing). However, again there are often
preliminary representations. Poets and song-makers make
many drafts and some cut out words and phrases to shuffle
around seeking inspiration or simply serendipity (if the two
are separable). A composer may hum bars, or sit at a
keyboard playing stray notes whilst penning then striking
out notes on the stave. Furthermore the performance of a
play, opera or symphony all are accomplished, Cage
included, in the external sound, silence and sights they
In the crafts, as in industrial design, sketches, models and
mood boards are common, as are more precise
representations such as the scale drawings used in carpentry
to plan complex joints, or the 'drafts' used in weaving to
turn the desired appearance of the fabric into the pattern of
warp threading and sheds.
In software engineering external forms abound from the
simple flow diagram to the multifarious notations of UML.
Indeed, now that electronic music and various forms of
performance are deeply embedded in software, composers
and artists may find themselves manipulating box and
arrow diagrams rather than physical instruments and
manuscript paper.
Within user interface design there are representations of the
systems being designed with paper prototypes and
storyboards as well as representations of the users and their
use situations in personae and scenarios.
The mathematician, is lost without blackboards or
notebooks full of diagrams, equations and scribbled notes.
And for all, there is always the paper napkin.
Uses of externalisation in the design process
These different forms of external entities address different
facets of design.
product The most obvious external artefacts are the
products of design itself or representations of them:
sketches, models, prototypes. These have many functions
including communicating to clients, and testing how ideas
pan-out in practice. In the case of communicating to
others, the design may be close to final form. However,
concrete external representations of products can also be
more experimental. Indeed both Schon [47] and Alexander
[1], use scientific language when talking of this: the
concrete design as an 'experiment' or 'hypothesis'.
problem space External representations can also be used
to express the problem to be solved or the context in which
the design is to be placed. Mood boards are an example of
this, not specifying a specific design, but communicating
the values and ethos of an organisation or of a setting.
Similarly a requirements specification creates an explicit
statement of aspects of the context. Alexander [1] regards
design as obtaining a fit between form (product/artefact)
and context, and describes the diagrams, which are the core
of his conception of 'patterns', as a "way of representing
design problems". The problem space can be both very
concrete, for example, photographs of an intended location
for a work of art, or in the case of Quist and Petra's
conversation in Schon [47] the physical structure of the site
of a school. However, it can also be very abstract, for
example the precise formal software requirements
specification, or the suggestive impressions from collecting
cultural probes [24].
Of course in representing the problem space, it can become
itself problematic, something to be 'designed', and it is this
reframing of the problem, which Schon considers one of
the hallmarks of a 'reflective practioner' [47, p:40].
design space While a sketch or prototype represents a
single design possibility, some representations represent
aspects of a whole set of possibilities for the eventual
product. This can be done quite concretely by a series of
alternative designs, which in someway cover or sample the
set of possible designs. However, it may be abstract, for
example lists of criteria, properties, options: design
rationale notations such as QOC attempt to express the
choices for a design [36] and the Bad Ideas method, by
prompting one to consider why an idea is bad (or good),
forces one to articulate criteria [15]. In some ways the
problem space and design space are doing a similar thing,
the former focused on the context, but using that to set
constraints on the design, the later transforming those
external constraints into criteria and properties of the
product of design. However, some issues arise only in
representations of the design space, for example, the
external (problem) constraints for a chair may be about
weight, strength and comfort, but choice of material, while
impacting these external constraints, may not be an explicit
part of the problem.
The nature of materials and tools has a profound impact on
the kinds of externalisations produced. In studies of group
design using different materials, it was noticeable that those
with plasticine or cardboard and glue, tended to explore the
design space by way of example, whereas those with paper
and pencil, tended to create more abstract lists of properties
process Finally, one may have some form of
representation of the process being followed. This may be
a post-hoc record or some sort of plan or normative
schedule. For example, architects follow a prescribed set
of stages and in biology and chemistry laboratories the lab
notebook is a central part of the activity crucial for
intellectual property reasons, but also because of the
necessity to be able to reproduce precisely the same
conditions in future.
For some artists, for example, Andy Goldsworthy's
manipulations of the natural world, it is as much the record
of the process of construction as it is the final artefact that
comprises the work of art itself.
Properties and Dimensions
The physical and semiotic nature of these external artefacts
and representations also differ in various ways:
representation Some external artefacts are physical and
in some sense isomorphic with at least aspects of the things
being designed, for example, the foam model of the product
designer, or (in a different modality) the hummed notes of
the composer. Some are more schematic or representative
such as the sketch or floor plan: in some ways rendering
aspects of the final item and yet in a different medium, or
some way distanced from it. Finally are more symbolic
representations such as the words in a mind-map, or
equations on the blackboard, which deal more with more
abstract concepts, ideas, criteria or properties.
modality The forms of externalisation differ also in the
modality in which they are expressed. There is written
language, both normal language and also specialised
languages such as mathematical or musical notation. These
are typically abstract and symbolic. In addition, language
may be used in speech, whether as part of a discussion,
dictaphone notes, or speaking out loud a poem or other
work in progress. There are also drawn diagrams, sketches
or images, some more abstract or schematic, others closer
in form to the final product. Similarly there may be aural
representations (playing music), or even olfactory or tactile
externalisations, usually also close in form the final
product. Finally the externalisation may be done using the
whole body when acting out scenarios or body-storming
persistence Some externalisations are naturally
persistent: the words written on a page, the clay model, or
the sketch on the back of an envelope. However, some are
ephemeral and past as soon as they are framed: the words
in a conversation, the notes played on a keyboard, or the
movements made during an improvisation session. These
two flow into one another when the ephemeral leaves
traces: patterns of footsteps on the sand, peeing on snow
[5], or whiteboard sketches at the end of a meeting. Indeed
one class of techniques we will see later is precisely those
that help create traces for discussion and reflection.
To understand how externalisation works as part of activity
in general and design in particular, we first need to realise
that while interconnected there are many different
processes at work involving physical, social and cognitive
interacting with the world
Physical externalisations offer opportunities and resistances
because of their physical nature. When a concept, an object
of mind, becomes solid it becomes subject to the same laws
as objects of nature and the resistances of the world form
the outcome as much as the initial mental idea. This is
exactly the process described by Sennett as a conversation
with materials [50].
This is often tacit and it is exactly this continuous
interaction with the environment that is emphasised by
those who argue for the centrality of embodiment or
enactment in all human activity. For example, Gibson
suggests that perception is not static, but is continuously
created through interacting with physical things and
moving in the physical environment [25]: we can tell the
distance of an object by the way in which its edges change
as we move our head or move towards it.
However, in a design setting, externalisations may be
explicitly created in the form of scale models or diagrams
in order to exploit physical resistance; for example, by
looking at an architectural model, we may realise that a
window is facing a wall, or that there is no room for the
planned furniture.
Sometimes this kind of limitation is only realised when an
exact scale (or real size) model is acted out in a real
scenario. For example, [16, p.202] describes a discussion
around the design of an Internet-enabled Swiss army knife.
The idea was that useful tips could be shared via a web site
and step-by-step instructions for using different blades
would be displayed on a small screen on the side of the
knife, using the toothpick as a stylus. While discussing this
verbally it sounded fine, it was only when acted out that it
became apparent that at a critical moment the fingers
holding the knife would obscure the display.
However, sometimes simply seeing a representation may
enable us to imagine limitations, or constraints or
opportunities. For example, the architecture pupil Petra
described by Schon [47, p.83] creates a scale drawing of a
school with six classrooms arranged in a staggered form,
but realises that these are too "small in scale" and so
instead changes them into three L shaped configurations.
Similarly, in a study where groups were given different
materials to work with, those with card tended to create
designs around flat or cylindrical (rolled) shapes [44].
Figure 1. Card suggests tubes and sheets (from [44])
These constraints of the world are also evident in less
physical situations. For example, in writing this paper it
may only be by formatting it in the appropriate style that
we discover if it is the right length, or that figures need to
be shifted to layout neatly. Similarly, in drawing UML
diagrams of a piece of software the tangle of lines may
suggest that there is insufficient modularity.
Many design situations now involve some form of virtual
model, whether 3D CAD or a traffic simulation. Here
computation does the job of the world in offering resistance
or 'talking back'. As with physical objects this may be
because it recruits the designers own understanding (e.g.
walking through a virtual building) or may that the
computation does the work (e.g. structural models). Of
course, in the case of code, the final output is virtual, but
equally a medium to be worked with and against; indeed
Sennett views the coder as much a craftsman as the
carpenter [50]. This is evident in vignette 1, where Xara
finds that comparing outputs of her program helps her 'feel'
the code.
interacting with others
The importance of shared representations is a common
theme in ethnographies. In Heath and Luff's classic study
of the London Underground control room [29], the 'fixed
line diagram', a large display visible to everyone, shows the
locations of trains, track and signals and acts as a common
point of reference. Equally, more recent studies of the
home reveal a rich collection of resources for shared
coordination, from calendars and notice boards, to working
out who is at home from the keys in a bowl [10].
Non-physical externalisations are also critical. Star's
original conception of 'boundary objects' centred on the use
of a shared taxonomy, a conceptual 'object', as the means
by which diverse professionals in a museum environment
could interact [52]. Similarly in vignette 2, Betty is able to
read Yorick's written argument and thus critique it.
Furthermore, she is able to listen to his verbalisation and
reflect back aspects of the argumentation that were absent
in the written externalisation, but present in his spoken
This last point is worth pausing upon. Quite naturally,
many people find it easier to speak than to write, as the
latter is a more complex skill. However, it is often hard to
'hear' one's own words. The authors have frequently
observed that simply reflecting back a student's own words
yields reactions such as "I never knew that". We will
return to this when considering externalisation tools and
Interacting with oneself
As well as being a way to interact with the world and with
others, externalisation can be a means to interact with
oneself both at the moment or in the future. This may
sometimes be an 'accident' of externalisation for others, as
one communicates with others one elaborates and thus
understands an issue better. It may also arise out of
Vignette 1: Xara's work involves writing simulations of
large-scale software. Because of the complexity of the
systems involved it is often hard to understand why
particular outputs are produced, even when everything
is working correctly. Albert has encouraged her to write
and update documentation of her code including
example outputs, this was largely to help her to obtain a
better understanding of her own code through the
process of documentation. Some months after starting
this process she remarks on the insight she obtained by
comparing different versions of the document and in
particular the different outputs produced. As the code
was evolving, the same input data produced different
outputs over time. Through seeing this, she expresses a
changing understanding of the underlying algorithms:
she says she is beginning to "feel" the code rather than
simply being able to calculate.
Vignette 2: Yorick has been writing a paper on the
1970's Cod War in the North Atlantic and is discussing
it with Betty. Betty picks on a few paragraphs near the
beginning of the paper as they appear to represent
related issues and examples, but without an obvious
argument structure, and starts to dissect them. On a
sentence-by-sentence basis she asks why each is there
and how it relates to the argument as a whole. She also
asks Yorick to say in words what he is trying to express
in the text. Yorick's verbal explanation includes
substantially more detail and rationale than in the text.
Betty realises that some issues mentioned in the text
that she had initially thought irrelevant were in fact part
of an argument and she reflects back what she believes
to be the underlying argument of the section. Although
he had not previously articulated this argument either in
the text or verbally, Yorick recognises this was indeed
an accurate reflection of the previously implicit
feelings he had of the situation.
interaction with the world, for example, after seeing the
thumb over the Swiss army knife 'screen' the importance of
how you hold devices became more salient.
Notes, plans and diaries are ways in which we externalise
now something that we believe will be of value to us in the
future. Unlike externalisations for others, which rely on
some form of common ground [8] or inter-subjectivity,
externalisation for oneself may only need a word, icon or
sketch that reminds one, a form of semi-private language.
For example, Threadway reports how the textile artist
Charlotte Hodes keeps a log of "handwritten notes and
sketches", which are "nebulous thoughts" and so
"sufficiently fluid to enable free exploration of visual ideas"
Talking across boundaries
Returning to the inter-personal use of external
representations, it may be driven by tacit or explicit
knowledge and evoke both tacit and explicit responses.
The prototypical 'informational' (see next section) human
human conversation, especially in academic discourse, is
effectively acting at an explicitexplicit level: the
communication involves explicit thinking, representation
and interpretation on both sides. However, there is always
a level of tacit understanding in even the most apparently
explicit interchange, as highlighted in Herb Clark's notion
of establishing and negotiating common ground [8, 9].
In contrast a tacittacit level of intercourse is the primary
and ostensive purpose of externalisation in many of the
arts: a painting may convey emotions, or a poetic metaphor
express rich associations. However, tacittacit interactions
are also common in day-to-day experiences, from holding
out a shopping bag for another to fill, to dancing together at
a nightclub. Cultural probes can also act in this mode.
Using the probe packs, participants take photos, fill out
postcards, and otherwise create external artefacts. When
returned, the completed probes are placed in the designers'
workspace and serve to enculture them; while they may use
the probes more analytically (tacitexplicit), they often
simply soak in the atmosphere created by the probes
empathetically [24].
Externalisation may reach across the explicittacit divide.
In advertising and in design aimed at motivation or
persuasion [21] there is an explicit creation of an external
representation (image, object, game), which is intended to
create a tacit response: in the case of advertising often
appealing to desires, emotions; in the case of motivational
design maybe attempting to encourage positive feelings
about exercise, or make healthy eating seem cool. The use
of mood boards for brands is another example of this: the
mood board is intended to evoke very specific feelings
about the corporate brand and image, so that those
Note 'semi-' in the sense that it neither need be perfectly private,
nor give rise to perfect recall, the two attributes that were the
subject of Wittgenstein's critique [59/Wi53])).
designing electronic and print materials can fit within the
brand without necessarily themselves explicitly thinking
about the brand values. Even in academic writing we may
have an explicit idea of the expected emotional impact of
writing: do we keep the reader in suspense, but risk
confusion, or 'give away' the whole story in the abstract?
Finally, and perhaps most interesting, externalisations can
make tacit understanding available to explicit interrogation
by others. Looking again at vignette V2, Yorick verbally
expresses an argument, which is then reflected back and
elaborated by Betty. Although Betty also adds to the
argument, she also hears elements in Yorick's verbalisation,
which he clearly 'knew' tacitly in the sense that he said
them, but did not know explicitly enough to articulate.
Similarly in the arts one may analyse a poem exposing the
subtle use of metre and language by which it creates its
emotive effects. We will return to this tacitexplicit mode
later when we re-examine reflection.
Table. 1. Modes of interaction with others
Table 1 summarises these modes of explict/implict
communications. However, this itself, while avoiding the
dualism that separates these completely, still runs the risk
of over simplifying. Where would one put Derrida in such
a picture? Even Einstein's imaginary 'sitting on a light
beam' strains the boundaries.
Functions of Externalisation
So far we have looked at examples of externalisation, seen
it as a rich process, which often involves many layers of
action and thought at the same time, and seen how it
operates within and across the tacitexplicit divide.
However, externalisation is not a purposeless phenomenon,
but something that achieves something. We identify four
functions of externalisation:
informational This is the obvious explicitexplicit
communicative function of writing, noted in the last
section: you have some existing thoughts or ideas and set
these down on paper so that someone else can understand
the same things that you do (Figure 2). Similarly an
architect may make a scale model or virtual reality
simulation in order to convey the shape, appearance or
experience of a building to a client. Note that this process
may not be perfect. The words or pictures on the paper, or
model on the table may not perfectly capture the idea or
picture in your head. Similarly, the impression that this
creates in your readers' or clients' heads may be not be the
same as in your own. However, whilst not a perfect act of
communication, it is achieving a communicative purpose.
Figure 2. informational passing on to others already formed
formational Most writers have noticed the common yet
strange phenomenon that they know more after they have
written than they did before. This is weird if one regards
externalisation solely as an act of communication. The act
of writing demands a particular word, the need to sketch
demands that the location of a door is specified; what had
been vague or fuzzy thoughts becomes specific and
concrete; the very process of elaboration of thoughts
changes the thoughts. Rather then pre-existing ideas being
re-presented in an external form, the idea is itself formed in
the process of presentation. This can be problematic
leading to premature commitment, hence the need at some
stages of design for deliberately fuzzy representations; for
example, Buxton [4] emphasises the importance of the way
sketched lines are imprecise and often don't join at the
Figure 3. formational vague ideas becoming clearer
by the process of externalisation
transformational While the informational function is
most obvious when considering communication media, for
those involved in craft or product design the most
important thing is that the external representation has
properties that can be used to help in understanding or
planning the eventual outcome. We may measure lengths
on a scale diagram, add up lists of numbers, play back a
tune, or simply run our hands over the planned shape of the
wing of a car. Sennett [50] talks about the relationship
between craftsman and material as a form of conversation
and Schön [47] refers to the "back talk" of the situation,
part of knowing in action. In problem solving research it is
well known that changes of representation can offer
obvious solutions to what appeared to be intractable
problems, and perhaps this move from internal to external
is the most radical transformation of all. It is this function
of externalisation as an augmentation of cognitive activity
that is critical in distributed cognition accounts and in those
studying embodiment.
This final meta-cognitive function is the
least obvious, but ultimately perhaps the most powerful.
Because our thoughts have been expressed externally we
can peruse them as if they were any other thing. This is
most obvious when we in some way capture the abstract
aspects: concepts, arguments, criteria, etc. In a mind map
one can see both the names of concepts written down and
also the relationships between them as connecting lines and
clustered word bubbles. In an academic paper, like this, one
can analyse the way the argument is structured and
recognise its strengths and gaps. This function is most
common with symbolic representations such as words, as
the symbols in some sense 'flatten' the conceptual
landscape: the word "stone" is similar to the word
"concept" or "efficiency"; so that talking about thoughts
and thoughts about thoughts become little different from
talking about feet or walking.
Fugure 5. transcendental our thoughts and ideas
become the object of thought
Without minimising the importance of communication in
the informational function, or the embodied cognition of
the transformational function; we will shift our attention to
the formational and transcendental aspects as it is in these
that embodiment and reflection meet.
From knowing to knowing about knowing
It is the transcendental function of externalisation that we
see at work in accounts of professional reflection. Often
this is through the resistances felt through interactions with
others or with the world that then force reflection. Recall
Quist is the tutor architect in Schön [47]. Quist and Petra
are discussing her initial ideas for the site and her
problems. Quist says, "You should begin with a discipline,
even if it is arbitrary, because the site is so screwy ...". The
odd patterns of contours in the site, its 'screwiness' forces
Quist to step back, consider and explicate higher-level
'Transcendental' here is being used in its meaning as a different
(higher) plane or level of reasoning, not in any mystical sense.
Figure 4. transformational thinking using materials
heuristics. However, the
screwiness itself was evident not
from walking the terrain, but from
the representation in terms of
contour lines on the page. The
externalisation allows Quist's tacit
understanding of the spatial
characteristics to operate, noticing
the site feels 'screwy' and the by
articulating this, makes it available as an explicit issue to be
At a larger scale, Alexander's pattern language is doing just
this, reflecting on centuries of craft knowledge made
external in buildings and streets, and from that extracting
the patterns of events and spaces that make these 'work' for
people [1]. Furthermore, by making these patterns explicit,
one can not only apply and teach them, but also discuss
them, maybe debate whether a particular pattern is right, or
how patterns fit together. Similarly, by naming his six 'S's
(site, structure, skin, services, space plan and stuff), Brand
was able to analyse and articulate the aspects of traditional
buildings that made them able to evolve [3]. In music
theory also, Magnusson describes how the need to create
code means that digital instruments make explicit the
knowledge that was implicit in traditional analogue
instruments [37].
At an even larger level this can be seen as the ultimate
success of language and the symbolic. Words allow us to
talk about things and so collaborate. However, words also
are things in themselves, identifiable on the page, and yet
remarkably similar in form no matter whether what they
represent is concrete or abstract, verb or adjective. In his
use of archaeology to uncover past human and pre-human
cognition, Mithen identifies the importance of cognitive
fluidity, the ability to work between multiple modular
intelligences (social, physical, etc.), which arose
somewhere between 30 and 60 thousand years ago [39].
This fluidity is necessary for material symbolism, and so
essential for language, thus language cannot be the sole
source for it. One of the authors has argued that
imagination acts as an alternative cognitive connection
between these modules, maybe kick-starting the process
Whatever the origins, language creates an important ratchet
as symbols and words are a great conceptual leveller. Once
they are external symbols, we can manipulate 'wolf' and
'worry', 'heavy' and 'health' as they are things not ideas or
concepts. At its extreme, this is precisely the agenda of the
formalist movement at the turn of the 19/20 century, but is
also the stuff of day-to-day language use. Language is one
of the core tools of the transcendental function of
externalisation, as it turns the world of ideas into the world
of material 'stuff', and thus allows us to have ideas about
ideas as easily as ideas about stuff, and those ideas about
ideas are named, become material and thus the subject of
discussion. At each stage the level
of discourse is raised, allowing us
to think more generically, more
Andy Clark sees language within a
framework of external mind, as a
sort of bringing of the external
word into the internal [7]. The
external material symbols become available in our
imagination so are amenable to our internal means to
apprehend and deal easily with the external material world.
Some writers, such as Searle [49] stress the role of
language in creating reality, especially in establishing
institutional facts (Obama is the President of the United
States, because he was declared to be it), however Renfrew
notes that it is often "the material reality, the material
symbol, that takes precedence" [46, p.127]. It seems there
is a rich interplay whereby material realities shape
language, but language, while not in the end limiting
thought [12], does shape it, making some things easier to
say and think. This then changes material culture the fact
that we have words for 'chair' and 'table' means we see the
world in these terms, and so the world becomes populated
with easily classifiable chairs and tables [19].
By understanding this rich interplay, it is possible to exploit
it, to expose our internal categories in our external actions,
and to use external tools to challenge those categories.
Tools and Methods
In general, understanding the ways in which externalisation
works, can help us make sense of various tools and
techniques for design and creativity, and moreover to
develop new ones.
tapping into the tacit Some techniques work by
appealing directly to our tacit understanding. Rich
scenarios and personae do this. They are deliberately far
more detailed than crude user profiles including
'unnecessary' details that make the people and the physical
situation seem to real to us. By appealing to our
imagination, they spark our natural social and physical
understandings in a way that an abstracted 'user group'
cannot. Similarly (re)coding dialectic, provides a way for
analysts to validate and evolve their vocabulary, models or
categorisation schemes (whether these are based an a priori
theory or inductive methods) [18]. The analyst is asked to
(re)code existing transcripts or observations with the
scheme. It is obvious that extra thought is required where
there are gaps. Less obviously, where a category (say 'X')
does apply, the analyst is prompted to say to themselves
"this item is just X" or "no more than X". This "just a"
phrase often sparks a visceral response "no it is not just an
X ..." and in explicating this tacit response, the scheme is
refined and developed.
resistance and breakdown Another class of techniques
attempt to bring aspects of our tacit understanding of the
external world to our attention, problematising them, and so
making them available for reflection. Many artists,
"There are known knowns ...
We also know there are known unknowns; ...
But there are also unknown unknowns ..."
Donald Rumsfeld, 2002
When we tap into our tacit knowledge
we are uncovering the unknown knowns.
ethnographers and comedians are experts at estangement,
taking the everyday and making it in some way strange: a
focus of wonder, analysis or laughter; the things we take
for granted are instead granted centre stage.
This can become an explicit analytic method. In one
exercise, designers named and arranged the activities they
used in their personal design process, then, one-by-one, the
activities were removed and the designers reacted to the
envisaged loss [27]. In Making Tea, chemists' use of lab
books was examined by asking them to make tea using both
chemistry and kitchen equipment, in each case treating the
exercise as if it were a laboratory procedure [48/sD09].
This created a common ground between researcher and
chemist, but also made the chemists' everyday, invisible
practices in the lab 'strange' and salient. The early stages of
Bad Ideas do the same, by asking participants to come up
with a bad or silly idea, rather than a good one, they
instantly find themselves in a strange part of the design
space, and so are able to see it more clearly [15].
In some areas near constant breakdown can have a positive
effect. In studies of novice object-oriented programmers,
simply asking them to vocalise during early design lead to
improved performance [32]. This is also evident in pair
programming, which is popular in agile software
development methods [51].
reducing and relating When words or symbols are on
paper, they become available, but often need to be brought
together to see similarities and differences, to bring out
commonality or explore conflicts. The codes used in
content analysis and grounded theory, do this for transcript
data. The transcripts (or video/audio recordings which they
record), may be to large to apprehend, but when reduced to
a stream of codes relationships themes and higher order
categories become evident. We see this in vignette 3 where
Zoe becomes aware of cross cutting categories due to
similar names and words. A similar technique can be used
in dealing with reviews of literature, software or products.
By using a few bullet points to capture the salient points of
each item, what was a huge pile of papers, documentation,
or objects gets reduced to a few A4 sheets of paper
similar terms in bullet points become apparent and thematic
concepts, that were clearly there tacitly in that they were
used to write the bullet points, suddenly become explicit.
engagement and reflection There is often a tension: to let
our tacit skills work we need thrownness, engagement in
what we are doing, but reflection can get in the way of this.
If a poet were to think at the end of each line, "I wonder
what poetic techniques I have used", it is unlikely more
than one line would get written. Where the externalisation
is persistent: on paper, in clay, or captured digitally, then
this tension can be resolved partially by separating in time
thrownness and breakdown, action and reflection: the poet
may write then critique, the painter stands back.
For more analytic processes whether exploring a design
brief, establishing user requirements, or academic research,
reflection is often achieved through text. We have already
noted how simply reflecting back students' words can elicit
surprise, as if the idea was new. This is particularly the
case with abstract and relational concepts; students know
about the concrete nouns and noun categories that they use,
but are less likely to recognise the adjectives, criteria and
property words even though they speak them. In
requirements engineering it is common to perform noun-
verb analysis on written materials (documentation, manuals
etc.). In a similar way it is possible to analyse one's own
writing and examine critically the vocabulary. This is a
common weakness of mind maps, which tend to focus on
nouns and concrete classes; but explicitly naming the
linking lines and arrows may yield new insights.
tracing the ephemeral This separation works when the
externalisation is persistent: writing, drawing, sculpting,
modelling; but fails for the ephemeral: spoken words,
improvised dance or music, drama or body storming. A
facilitator or observer may aid this, so that the actor (the
person engaged in tacit action) can continue unreflectively,
while the observer watches for novel ideas and issues. For
example, training simulators have been developed for
special forces to develop cultural sensitivity; some
participants take active roles, while others observe; in
addition facilitators draw the observers' attention to
interesting points [45]. In this case the active participants
are not reflecting themselves, it is more that their actions,
would be similar to those of the observer so provoking self-
reflection on the part of the (novice) observers.
When the performer needs to reflect on their own
performance or when the action happens too quickly for
effective observation, some form of recording is needed,
laying down a trace where there is none naturally. This is
exactly what is seen in physical sports where trainers will
film athletes, and then watch alongside one another in order
to improve their performance. Note that this involves three
phases: first through recording and observing making tacit
Vignette 3: Zoe engaged in an extensive qualitative
study of libraries using grounded theory. She studied
different libraries then analysed each separately using
grounded theory and is finally bringing the results
together. To do this she reduced the rich descriptions of
each category and sub-category to simple lists in a
spreadsheet so that similar concepts can be identified in
the different libraries studied. However, in doing this,
she notices that even within a single library's results,
there are sub-concepts with very similar names
appearing under different concepts: for example,
"oversize books" occurs under "shelving" and "large
books" under "scanning during check-out/check-in".
This at first appears to be a problem in the analysis, but
in discussing this with Charles, they realise that in fact
this corresponds to a cross-cutting issue, that of the
physical properties of books, which should perhaps be a
concept in its own right that has inter-relationships with
other concepts such as "shelving" and "scanning".
behaviour available for explicit reflection, then through
explicit analysis working out improved techniques, finally
the explicitly understood techniques have to be practiced so
that they are committed to tacit 'muscle memory'. This
same process can be used in more cognitive design
situations, for example, simply recording conversations (or
learning to type and note-take less reflectively) so that the
resulting written trace can be later examined in a more
reflective mode.
In the Replay method [27], observation and video recording
are used during dramatic and design-focused improvisation,
both forms of ephemeral externalisation. By asking some
actors to take a more reflective role, they become like the
tutor or trainer, observing and eliciting interesting issues,
themes or ideas from the otherwise fleeting actions of the
other actors. Recordings are later replayed for further
reflection by the group. Similar techniques are used in
cooperative evaluation and video-based user evaluations of
user interfaces [40], and cultural probes, as well as their
tacittacit role, also act as ways of recording (albeit with
disruption) the quintessence of the quotidian for later
Externalisation is ubiquitous in design and it is important to
understand its role so that we can make the most of it, and
develop ways to improve its power. However, there is a
theoretical and practical tension between external
representation as part of embodied action and as a means
for reflection. We have shown how externalisation is in
fact a link point between the tacit and explicit, enabling
unreflective embodied action to become the subject of
analytic reflection. This analysis offers a way to
understand, refine and develop practical design and
creativity techniques. This paper is itself effectively a meta-
reflection, and we hope by exposing these issues they can
become part of the tacit as well as explicit understanding
we bring to bear on our understanding of practical design.
This work is part of the DESIRE ITN (
Thanks also for comments from Linden Ball and reviewers.
1. Alexander, C. Notes On The Synthesis of Form.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964
2. Bechara, A. Damasio, H., Tranel, D. and Damasio, A.
Deciding Advantageously Before Knowing the
Advantageous Strategy. Science, Vol. 275, No. 5304
(Feb. 28, 1997), pp. 1293-1295
3. Brand, S. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After
They're Built. Viking, 1994
4. Buxton, B. Sketching User Experiences: Getting the
Design Right and the Right Design. Morgan Kaufmann,
San Francisco, CA, USA, 2007
5. Chadwick, H. 1991. Piss flowers (sculpture). created at
Banff Centre for the Arts, Alberta, Canada. see also:
6. Chatterjee, A. Disembodying Cognition. Language and
Cognition. 2-1 (2010), 79-116
7. Clark, A. Being There: Putting Brain, Body and the
World Together Again. MIT Press, 1998
8. Clark, H. and Brennan, S. Grounding in
communication, in: Resnick, L., Levine, J. and
Teasley, S. (eds.), Perspectives on Socially Shared
Cognition, American Psychological Association,
Washington, 1991, pp. 127149.
9. Clark, H. Using Language. Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 1996.
10. Crabtree, A. and Rodden, T. Domestic routines and
design for the home. CSCW, 2004, vol. 13, no. 2, pp.
11. Descartes, R. 1644. Principles of Philosophy. trans.
MacDonald Ross, G., 19981999. online version at:
12. Deutscher, G. Through the Language Glass: How
Words Colour your World. Heinemann, 2010
13. Dix, A. 2003. Imagination and rationality. 2005. The
adaptive significance of regret., Lancaster University,
14. Dix, A. 2005. The adaptive significance of regret.
Lancaster University, UK.
15. Dix, A., Ormerod, T., Twidale, M., Sas, C., Gomes da
Silva, P. and McKnight, L. (2006). Why bad ideas are a
good idea. in Proceedings of HCIEd.2006-1 inventivity,
Ballina/Killaloe, Ireland. 23-24 March 2006
16. Dix, A., Finlay, J., Abowd, G. and Beale, R. 2004.
HumanComputer Interaction. Prentice Hall.
17. Dix, A. 2008. Externalisation how writing changes
thinking. Interfaces, 76, 18-19.
18. Dix, A. Theoretical analysis and theory creation,
Chapter 9 in Research Methods for Human-Computer
Interaction, P. Cairns and A. Cox (eds). Cambridge
University Press, 2008, pp.175195
19. Dix, A. Paths and Patches: Patterns of Geonosy and
Gnosis. Chapter 1 in Exploration of Space, Technology,
and Spatiality: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Turner,
P., Turner, S. and Davenport, E. (eds), Information
Science Reference, 2009. pp. 1-16
20. Edwards, B. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
Tarcher, 1979
21. Fogg, B. Motivating, Influencing and Persuading Users.
Chapter 17. Handbook of Human Computer
Interaction, Jacko, J. and Sears, A. (eds.). Laurence
Earlbaum, New Jersey, 2003. pp. 358370
22. Gallagher, S. How the Body Shapes the Mind, Oxford
University Press, 2005
23. Gaver, W. 1991. Technology affordances. In Proc. of
CHI'91. ACM Press. 7984.
24. Gaver, B., Dunne, T., and Pacenti, E. 1999. Cultural
probes. Interactions 6, 1 (Jan. 1999), 21-29.
25. Gibson, J. The Ecological Approach to Visual
Perception. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1979
26. Gladwell, M. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without
Thinking. Little, Brown, 2005
27. Gongora, L. and Dix, A. 2010. Brainstorming is a Bowl
of Spaghetti: An In Depth Study of Collaborative
Design Process and Creativity Methods with
Experienced Design Practitioners. Proc. ICDC 2010.
28. Hartson, H. 2003. Cognitive, physical, sensory, and
functional affordances in interaction design. Behav
Inform Technol. 22, 5, 315338
29. Heath, C. and P. Luff (1991): 'Collaborative activity
and technological design: Task coordination in London
Underground control rooms' in: Proceedings of
ECSCW 91, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht,
The Netherlands, pp. 65-80.
30. Heidegger, M. 1927. Sein und Zeit. (English
translation: Being and Time. Harper, 2008)
31. Hollan, J., Hutchins, E. and Kirsh, D. 2002. Distributed
Cognition: Towards a New Foundation for Human
Computer Interaction Research. Chapter 4 In: Human
Computer Interaction in the New Millennium,
Carroll, J. (ed.). Addison-Wesley, 7594.
32. Hughes, J. and Parkes, S. Impact of verbalization upon
students' software design and evaluation. Proc. EASE
2004 (26th Int. Conf. on Software Engineering, 23-28
May 2004, Edinburgh, Scotland, pp.121-134.
33. Hutchins, E. Cognition in the Wild. MIT Press, 1995
34. Lakoff , G. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What
Categories Reveal About the Mind. University of
Chicago Press, 1987
35. Libet, B. 1999. Do We Have Free Will? Journal of
Consciousness Studies, 6(89), pp. 4757
36. MacLean, A. Young, R., Bellotti, V., and Moran T.
(1991) Questions. Options, and Criteria: Elements of
Design Space Analysis. HumanComputer Interaction.
6, 3&4, 201-250.
37. Magnusson, T. (2009) On Epistemic Tools: Musical
Instruments as Cognitive Extensions, Organised Sound,
14, 1, 168-176.
38. Merleau-Ponty, M. 1945. Phénomènologie de la
Perception. (English translation: Phenomenology of
Perception, Routledge, 1958)
39. Mithin, S. The Prehistory of the Mind. Thames and
Hudson, 1996.
40. Monk, A. Wright, P., Haber, J. and Davenport, L. 1993.
Improving your HumanComputer Interface: A
Practical Approach. Prentice Hall.
41. Norman, D. The Design of Everyday Things. MIT
Press, 1998.
42. Obhi, S. and Haggard, P. 2004. Free Will and Free
Won't . American Scientist. July-August 2004, 92(4),
pp. 358365.
43. Oulasvirta, A., Kurvinen, E. and Kankainen, T. 2003.
Understanding contexts by being there: case studies in
bodystorming. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 7, 2 (July
2003), 125-134.
44. Ramduny-Ellis, D., Hare, J., Dix, A., Evans, M. and
Gill, S. (2010) Physicality in Design: an exploration.
The Design Journal, 13(1) pp. 48-76.
45. Raybourn, E. 2009. Intercultural Competence Game-
based Training that Fosters Reflection. In Workshop on
Designing for Reflection on Experience. (CHI 2009, 4
9 April 2009, Boston, MA, USA).
46. Renfrew, C.. Prehistory: The Making of the Human
Mind. Phoenix, London. 2007
47. Schön, D.A.,. The Reflective Practitioner. Basic Books,
London. 1984
48. schraefel, M. and Dix, A. Within Bounds and Between
Domains: Reflecting on Making Tea within the Context
of Design Elicitation Methods. International Journal of
Human Computer Studies. Elsevier. Vol. 67, Iss. 4,
April 2009, Pages 313-323
49. Searle, J. The Construction Of Social Reality. Penguin,
50. Sennett, R. The Craftsman. Allen Lane, London 2008
51. Shore, J. The Art of Agile Development. O’Reilly
Media, 2007
52. Star, S. The structure of ill-structured solutions:
boundary objects and heterogeneous distributed
problem solving, in: L. Gasser, M. Huhns (Eds.),
Distributed Artificial Intelligence, Volume II, Morgan
Kaufmann, SF Mateo, 1989, pp. 3754.
53. Strauss, D. From Head to Heart. Oxford, 2010
54. Suchman, L. Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem
of Human-Machine Communication. Cambridge
University Press. 1987
55. Treadaway, C. 2009. Hand e-craft: an investigation into
hand use in digital creative practice. In Proc. of the
seventh ACM conference on Creativity and cognition
(C&C '09). ACM, NY, USA, 185-194.
56. Varela, F., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E. 1991. The
Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human
Experience. MIT Press
57. Wilson M. 2002. Six views of embodied cognition.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9(4):625-36.
58. Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953/2001). Philosophical
Investigations. Blackwell Publishing.
... At a fundamental level, sketching can be considered as the externalisation of thinking processes during a design task, however, the value of the process goes beyond the marks created on paper by the user. Sketching presents the student with the opportunity to explore and reflect on complex, tacit and explicit internal processes (Dix & Gongora, 2011). The production of marks on paper not only records the design journey process but it also serves as a mental buffer enabling the student to retrieve, manipulate and synthesise information in an efficient fashion. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The development of students' hierarchical thinking during iterative processes of designing through sketching activities is a crucial part of design education as it supports the connection between students' design intentions and its material embodiment. To this end, this paper discusses how different types of sketching activities can facilitate the development of hierarchical thinking in design activities. In this paper, we define hierarchical thinking as the ability to move between abstract and concrete representations through varying levels of specificity as well as the journey from global to specific representations. Doing this, we explore how using different sketching activities can allow students to explore a range of design intentions and physical embodiments at different levels of abstraction and detail. The paper also discusses how the idea of hierarchical thinking can support design educators to teach students to engage with their design processes more productively on a need-to-know basis. By teaching students to move between different levels of abstraction and detail effectively, teachers can support students to develop a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of their designerly processes. Overall, this paper highlights the importance of modelling through sketching and hierarchical thinking in design education and practice.
... The construct of reflection-in-action describes that while students are doing their design project, students' actions are driven by their tacit knowledge. Externalizing reflection-in-action can make the tacit knowledge consistent through documentation, which can resolve the tension of retaining the tacit knowledge they have applied during the design-based learning process (Dix & Gongora, 2011). Meanwhile, for the learning pursuing the knowledge transformation from learning experiences, supporting students' periodic recording during the design process contributes to the final reflection suggested by Boud and Kolb (Boud et al., 1996;Kolb, 2014). ...
Full-text available
Design-Based Learning (DBL) is a pedagogical approach where learning is situated in the context of design activities that are typically carried out in groups. During collaborative design inquiry, reflection is of vital importance for learning from design experience. The paper presents a research-through-design study with the intention to generate knowledge on how to design for supporting reflection-in-action during design-based learning. This study addresses the research question: how can a media tool support a group of students in externalizing reflection while they are engaging in DBL? This paper describes the design and evaluation of ReflectionSchema, a tool intended to support reflection-in-action in such a learning environment. The tool offers visualized guidance for coordinating a group of students’ understanding of how they can combine reflecting with making design represen- tations. The tool was trialed by 13 groups of students aged 12 to 13, who used the tool to record short reflection videos along their whole DBL process. We analyzed the efficacy of ReflectionSchema in terms of supporting collaborative reflection-in-action. Furthermore, we investigated the process of reflection-in-action during Design-based learning processes by examining the collaborative reflection patterns in the reflection videos that include the actions, roles, recording preference/style, and strategies employed. We discussed how these findings can inform the design of other reflection tools for similar settings.
... When a designer engages with a design situation, they depend on inquiry activities: sketching, prototyping, mockups, and other objects and activities that externalize the participants' inquiry (Dix and Gongora, 2011), and which ultimately manifests the participants' reflection-in-action. ...
Full-text available
In this article, we argue that game jam formats are uniquely suited to engage participants in learning about artificial intelligence (AI) as a design material because of four factors which are characteristic of game jams: 1) Game jams provide an opportunity for hands-on, interactive prototyping, 2) Game jams encourage playful participation, 3) Game jams encourage creative combinations of AI and game development, and 4) Game jams offer understandable goals and evaluation metrics for AI. We support the argument with an interview study conducted with three AI experts who had all organized game jams with a focus on using AI in game development. Based on a thematic analysis of the expert interviews and a theoretical background of Schön's work on educating the reflective practitioner, we identified the four abovementioned factors as well as four recommendations for structuring and planning an AI-focused game jam: 1) Aligning repertoires, 2) Supporting playful participation, 3) Supporting ideation, and 4) Facilitating evaluation and reflection. Our contribution is motivated by the recent discourse on general challenges and recommendations of teaching AI identified by related literature, here under the long and intertwined history of games and AI in general. The article presents an initial discussion of the value of game jam formats for learning about AI and which factors need to be considered in regard to this specific learning goal.
... These representations are the means by which insights is communicated between participants [28]. This category can be considered to include, e.g., the concepts of traces [25,61]: the visual and physical materials that are created during and left behind after a creative process; or (informational and transformational) externalization [2,14]: embodied representations of our thoughts. These representations can be both two-dimensional and three-dimensional. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In design, we often deal with complex problems that require participatory, embodied sensemaking to solve. There are abundant design tools available – both physical and digital – to support these activities. While digital tools have continued to gain presence in the design processes over the last decades, due to, e.g., widened availability, improved flexibility, and the potential to increase productivity, physical tools and analogue practices still hold a solid place in the design process for many designers. To bridge the gap between the physical and digital, and to benefit from the best of both worlds in tools for design, hybrid tools are being developed. This paper aims to identify design opportunities for future hybrid design tools, by exploring the characteristics of designing for participatory, embodied sensemaking, in the context of physical, digital, and hybrid tools.
Full-text available
Background Co-creation in policymaking is of increasing interest to national governments, and designers play a significant role in its introduction. Aims and objectives We discuss instances from our fieldwork that demonstrated how UK Policy Lab used design methods to gain insight into the design-oriented methods introduced to policymakers’ practices, and how these may influence conventional policy design processes. Methods This paper reports on the learnings from a two-month participant observation at UK Policy Lab conducted in early 2019. Findings We found that, beyond human-centred and future-oriented practices, the designers working at this unit appropriate design as a reflective practice for the context of policymaking. We discuss how the use of visual and creative methods of design are utilised by policy designers to facilitate co-creative reflective practices, and how these make a valuable contribution to policymaking practices in UK Government. Discussion and conclusions As deliberation and decision making is influenced both by what is thought about as well as who is doing the thinking, reflective practices allow notions and assumptions to be unpicked. Moreover, when done as a group activity, reflection leads to a co-production of a deepened understanding of policy challenges. Consequently, we argue, the reflective practices introduced by Policy Lab are an essential contribution to developing a co-creation tradition in evidence-informed policymaking processes.
In our increasingly technology driven world, many human experiences are at risk of falling into the hands of Big Tech who trade, manipulate and design with our data. Catherine Ignacio and Lauren F Klein (2020 BBC News 2020. “Coronavirus: Ethnic Minorities ‘are a Third’ of Patients.” (accessed 2021). [Google Scholar]) propose data feminism as a set of considerations to challenge power and injustices using data science practices. The work of textile designers can also support critical thinking by acknowledging alternative forms of knowledge, experience and activism. Textile designers collect, organise, analyse and present data in formats and contexts which engage and elevate people and stories from different communities. This paper explores the ways that textile designers experimenting with data experience embody the proposed suggestions to tackle issues and challenge systems of oppression. Textile design artefacts can inspire and provoke considerations for data ethics by enabling engagement with information which supports critical thinking. This paper demonstrates the principles of data feminism using examples of contemporary textile practitioners to illustrate how data representation is being designed to evoke emotional response, to communicate meaning and to consider alternative forms of knowledge production. Engaging material artefacts to explore ethical implications of data products is proposed as an application for textile design viewed through the lens of data feminism. This paper argues from the perspective of textile designers, for textile and material thinking be considered as valid methodologies to support dialogue used to challenge injustices and oppression perpetuated through data experience. This paper contributes to textile design research and practice which is expanding the traditional space for textile and material thinking to engage science and technology. Using textile practice to enable a connection and through intersectional feminist framing, a position is established for textile designers to challenge issues found in data science. This paper contributes to the interpretations of soft systems by introducing ways that designers are using materials to reconceptualise and question the status quo of engagement with the digital world. Engaging textile design practices can support critical thinking on data ethics; this paper contributes to research which strengthens the case and scope for textile design and explores relevant and timely issues facing society today.
Human-Computer Interaction draws on the fields of computer science, psychology, cognitive science, and organisational and social sciences in order to understand how people use and experience interactive technology. Until now, researchers have been forced to return to the individual subjects to learn about research methods and how to adapt them to the particular challenges of HCI. This book provides a single resource through which a range of commonly used research methods in HCI are introduced. Chapters are authored by internationally leading HCI researchers who use examples from their own work to illustrate how the methods apply in an HCI context. Each chapter also contains key references to help researchers find out more about each method as it has been used in HCI. Topics covered include experimental design, use of eyetracking, qualitative research methods, cognitive modelling, how to develop new methodologies and writing up your research.
Bill Buxton and I share a common belief that design leadership together with technical leadership drives innovation. Sketching, prototyping, and design are essential parts of the process we use to create new products. Bill Buxton brings design leadership and creativity to Microsoft. Through his thought-provoking personal examples he is inspiring others to better understand the role of design in their own companies--Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft "Informed design is essential." While it might seem that Bill Buxton is exaggerating or kidding with this bold assertion, neither is the case. In an impeccably argued and sumptuously illustrated book, design star Buxton convinces us that design simply must be integrated into the heart of business--Roger Martin, Dean, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto Design is explained, with the means and manner for successes and failures illuminated by engaging stories, true examples and personal anecdotes. In Sketching User Experiences, Bill Buxton clarifies the processes and skills of design from sketching to experience modeling, in a lively and informative style that is rich with stories and full of his own heart and enthusiasm. At the start we are lost in mountain snows and northern seas, but by the end we are equipped with a deep understanding of the tools of creative design.--Bill Moggridge, Cofounder of IDEO and author of Designing Interactions "Like any secret society, the design community has its strange rituals and initiation procedures. Bill opens up the mysteries of the magical process of design, taking us through a land in which story-telling, orange squeezers, the Wizard of Oz, I-pods, avalanche avoidance, bicycle suspension sketching, and faking it are all points on the design pilgrim''s journey. There are lots of ideas and techniques in this book to feed good design and transform the way we think about creating useful stuff". -Peter Gabriel I love this book. There are very few resources available that see across and through all of the disciplines involved in developing great experiences. This is complex stuff and Buxton''s work is both informed and insightful. He shares the work in an intimate manner that engages the reader and you will find yourself nodding with agreement, and smiling at the poignant relevance of his examples.--Alistair Hamilton, Symbol Technologies, NY Books that have proposed bringing design into HCI are aplenty, though books that propose bringing software in to Design less common. Nevertheless, Bill manages to skilfully steer a course between the excesses of the two approaches and offers something truly in-between. It could be a real boon to the innovation business by bringing the best of both worlds: design and HCI. --Richard Harper, Microsoft Research, Cambridge There is almost a fervor in the way that new products, with their rich and dynamic interfaces, are being released to the public-typically promising to make lives easier, solve the most difficult of problems, and maybe even make the world a better place. The reality is that few survive, much less deliver on their promise. The folly? An absence of design, and an over-reliance on technology alone as the solution. We need design. But design as described here depends on different skillsets-each essential, but on their own, none sufficient. In this rich ecology, designers are faced with new challenges-challenges that build on, rather than replace, existing skills and practice. Sketching User Experiences approaches design and design thinking as something distinct that needs to be better understood-by both designers and the people with whom they need to work- in order to achieve success with new products and systems. So while the focus is on design, the approach is holistic. Hence, the book speaks to designers, usability specialists, the HCI community, product managers, and business executives. There is an emphasis on balancing the back-end concern with usability and engineering excellence (getting the design right) with an up-front investment in sketching and ideation (getting the right design). Overall, the objective is to build the notion of informed design: molding emerging technology into a form that serves our society and reflects its values. Grounded in both practice and scientific research, Bill Buxton''s engaging work aims to spark the imagination while encouraging the use of new techniques, breathing new life into user experience design. Covers sketching and early prototyping design methods suitable for dynamic product capabilities: cell phones that communicate with each other and other embedded systems, "smart" appliances, and things you only imagine in your dreams;. Thorough coverage of the design sketching method which helps easily build experience prototypes-without the effort of engineering prototypes which are difficult to abandon;. Reaches out to a range of designers, including user interface designers, industrial designers, software engineers, usability engineers, product managers, and others;. Full of case studies, examples, exercises, and projects, and access to video clips ( that demonstrate the principles and methods. About the Author Trained as a musician, Bill Buxton began using computers over thirty years ago in his art. This early experience, both in the studio an on stage, helped develop a deep appreciation of both the positive and negative aspects of technology and its impact. This increasingly drew him into both design and research, with a very strong emphasis on interaction and the human aspects of technology. He first came to prominence for his work at the University of Toronto on digital musical instruments and the novel interfaces that they employed. This work in the late 70s gained the attention of Xerox PARC, where Buxton participated in pioneering work in collaborative work, interaction techniques and ubiquitous computing. He then went on to become Chief Scientist of SGI and Alias|Wavefront, where he had the opportunity to work with some of the top film makers and industrial designers in the world. He is now a principal researcher at Microsoft Corp., where he splits his time between research and helping make design a fundamental pillar of the corporate culture. * Covers sketching and early prototyping design methods suitable for dynamic product capabilities: cell phones that communicate with each other and other embedded systems, "smart" appliances, and things you only imagine in your dreams; * Thorough coverage of the design sketching method which helps easily build experience prototypes-without the effort of engineering prototypes which are difficult to abandon; * Reaches out to a range of designers, including user interface designers, industrial designers, software engineers, usability engineers, product managers, and others; * Full of case studies, examples, exercises, and projects, and access to video clips that demonstrate the principles and methods.
Map, mazes, myths, magic, and mathematics, computation, cognition, community, and the constructed environment, all reveal something of our internal models of space. Whilst the spaces we inhabit have many objective properties, we only perceive and process certain of these, and add many social and subjective qualities of our own. In fairy tales and science fiction, some of the "real" properties are let slip, yet the worlds remain comprehensible. Studying the essential and nonessential qualities of space can guide the construction and navigation of information spaces. However, the very idea of information spaces, and indeed cyberspace, presupposes that spatial metaphors can make sense of information. This chapter explores the relationships between our understandings of physical space and conceptual spaces; from childhood memories, to transarticulation, the way words shape our conceptual and physical landscape, we will see that our understandings of space and of knowledge itself are similarly shaped.
This article reports the findings of a study which comprised in depth interviews and an excercise using visual aids conducted at Philips research and Technical University Eindhoven in the Netherlands with four designers. The goal of this study was to learn more about how experienced designers interact with creativity tools in collaborative and often multidisciplinary teams in the early brainstorming stages of the design process. Important issues covered in this paper are the role of conversation, cross-disciplinary collaboration, facilitation, the body, planning, reflection and associative thinking as part of the brainstorming process.