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Modality and representation in analogy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2008

J.S. Linsey
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA
K.L. Wood
Manufacturing and Design Research Laboratory, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA
A.B. Markman
Similarity and Cognition Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA


Design by analogy is a powerful part of the design process across the wide variety of modalities used by designers such as linguistic descriptions, sketches, and diagrams. We need tools to support people's ability to find and use analogies. A deeper understanding of the cognitive mechanisms underlying design and analogy is a crucial step in developing these tools. This paper presents an experiment that explores the effects of representation within the modality of sketching, the effects of functional models, and the retrieval and use of analogies. We find that the level of abstraction for the representation of prior knowledge and the representation of a current design problem both affect people's ability to retrieve and use analogous solutions. A general semantic description in memory facilitates retrieval of that prior knowledge. The ability to find and use an analogy is also facilitated by having an appropriate functional model of the problem. These studies result in a number of important implications for the development of tools to support design by analogy. Foremost among these implications is the ability to provide multiple representations of design problems by which designers may reason across, where the verb construct in the English language is a preferred mode for these representations.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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