The structure of design problem spaces

Vinod Goel, Peter Pirolli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is proposed that there are important generalizations about problem solving in design activity that reach across specific disciplines. A framework for the study of design is presented that (a) characterizes design as a radial category and fleshes out the task environment of the prototypical cases; (b) takes the task environment seriously; (c) shows that this task environment occurs in design tasks, but does not occur in every nondesign task; (d) explicates the impact of this task environment on the design problem space; and (e) demonstrates that, given the structure of the information-processing system, the features noted in the problem spaces of design tasks will not all occur in problem spaces where the task environment is vastly different. This analysis leads to the claim that there are a set of invariant features in the problem spaces of design situations that collectively constitute a design problem space. Protocol studies are reported in which the problem spaces of three design tasks in architecture, mechanical engineering, and instructional design are explored and compared with several protocols from nondesign problem-solving tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-429
Number of pages35
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Linguistics and Language


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