The University of Sussex

A cognitive dimensional analysis of idea sketches

Charles C. Wood

In this paper Green's (1989) notion of "cognitive dimensions" is used to consider the properties of notations and media for sketching. First, a cultural-cognitive approach to HCI research is briefly outlined which draws on some ideas from "distributed cognition" and Russian psychology. Rather than focussing on the cognitive aspects of an activity or the social aspects (as do cognitive psychology and ethnography, respectively) this approach attempts to describe the artifacts used in an activity in a cognitively and socially relevant way. It is argued that such an approach requires a framework within which to analyse external representations, and that Green's "Cognitive dimensions" provide such a framework. The cognitive dimensions framework is described and then used to interpret a study of collaborative idea sketching which used interviewing, observational methods and a questionnaire survey of 128 academics. This analysis resulted in a cohesive and comprehensive characterisation of the pertinent properties of idea sketches. Other studies of sketching in different fields (writing, typography architecture. engineering design and fine art) are shown to support this characterisation.

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