Research Area: Cognitive Studies of Designing


Designing is one of the most significant of the purposeful cognitive acts of humans. Surprisingly little is known about it. This research area draws from cognitive science and applied psychology and extends techniques used in those disciplines to make them more useful in the study and elucidation of designing. The primary tool is the protocol study or protocol analysis. Here the designer is studied while carrying out designing tasks, generally in a laboratory setting although increasingly in situ.

We have been examining the cognitive activities of designers using the Function-Behavior-Structure ontology that provides a framework for understanding what is happening in design terms. This is giving us insight into where designers spend their cognitive effort.

We have extended existing protocol analysis tools through the development of new coding schemes and have developed new analysis tools based on entropy measurements of design activities.

Funding comes from NSF.

We examine fundamental cognitive behaviors while designing. Projects include:
  • fixation effects on designing
  • role of education on design behavior
  • role of sketching in designing
  • role of imagery in designing
  • role of external representations in designing
  • role of experience in designing
  • team and collaborative behavior
  • effect of the introduction of varying levels of technology on designing
  • methods for acquiring knowledge from protocols
  • Home



    Papers that describe some of the research methods and some of the main fundings

    • Bilda, Z, Gero, JS and Purcell, T (2006) To sketch or not to sketch? That is the question, Design Studies 27(5): 587-613 . (pdf)
    • Gero, JS and Jiang, H (2015) Exploring the design cognition of concept design reviews using the FBS-based protocol analysis, DTRS10: Design Thinking Research Symposium 2014 (to appear) (pdf)
    • Gero, JS, Kan, JWT and Pourmohamadi, M (2011) Analysing design protocols: Development of methods and tools, in A Chakrabarti (ed), Research into Design, Research Publishing, pp. 3-10 (pdf)
    • Gero, JS and McNeill, T (1998) An approach to the analysis of design protocols, Design Studies 19(1): 21-61. (pdf)
    • Jiang, H, Gero, JS and Yen, CC (2014) Exploring designing styles using Problem-Solution indexes, in JS Gero (ed), Design Computing and Cognition'12, Springer, pp. 85-101. (pdf)
    • Kan, J and Gero, JS (2008) Acquiring information from linkography in protocol studies of designers, Design Studies 29(4): 315-337. (pdf)
    • Kan, JWT and Gero JS (2009) Using the FBS ontology to capture semantic design information in design protocol studies, in J McDonnell and P Lloyd (eds), About: Designing.  Analysing Design Meetings, CRC Press, pp. 213-229. (pdf)
    • Kan, JWT and Gero, JS (2012) Studying software design cognition, in M Petre and A van der Hoek (eds), Software Designers in Action: A Human-Centric Look at Design Work, CRC Press (to appear) (pdf)
    • Purcell, T. and Gero, J. S. (1998) Drawings and the design process: A review of protocol studies in design and other disciplines and related research in cognitive psychology, Design Studies 19(4): 389-430. (pdf)
    • Wells, J, Lammi, M, Grubbs, M, Gero, J, Paretti, M and Williams, C (2016) Characterizing design cognition of high school students: Initial analyses comparing those with and without pre-engineering experiences, Journal of Technology Education (to appear) (pdf)
    • Yu, R, Gu, N, Ostwald, M and Gero, JS (2015) Empirical support for problem-solution co-evolution in a parametric design environment, AIEDAM 25(1): 33-44. (pdf)

    Papers that describe this research in more detail

    • Bilda, Z and Gero, JS (2006) Reasoning with internal and external representations: A case study with expert architects, in R Sun (ed), CogSci2006, Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 1020-1026 . (pdf)
    • Bilda, Z and Gero, JS (2005) Does sketching off-load visuo-spatial working memory? in Gero, JS and Bonnardel, N (eds), Studying Designers'05, Key Centre of Design Computing and Cognition, University of Sydney, pp 145-159. (pdf)
    • Gero JS (2011) Fixation and commitment while designing and its measurement, Journal of Creative Behavior 45(2): 108-115. (pdf)
    • Gero, JS, Jiang, H and Vieira, S (2013) Exploring a multi-meeting engineering design project, A Chakrabarti and RV Prakash (eds), ICoRD’13, Springer India, pp. 73-84. (pdf)
    • Gero, JS, Kan, JWT and Jiang, H (2014) Distinguishing and measuring “Communication While Designing” and “Design Communication” in a design team, International Conference on Human Behavior in Design (to appear) (pdf)
    • Gero, JS, Kannengiesser, U and Williams, C (2015) Does designing have a common cognitive behavior independent of domain and task: A meta-analysis of design protocols, International Conference on Human Behavior in Design (to appear) (pdf)
    • Jiang, H, Gero, JS and Yen, CC (2012) Exploring designing styles using Problem-Solution indexes, DCC'12 (to appear) (pdf)
    • Kan, J and Gero, JS (2005) Entropy measurement of linkography in protocol studies of designing, in Gero, JS and Bonnardel, N (eds), Studying Designers'05, Key Centre of Design Computing and Cognition, University of Sydney, pp. 229-245. (pdf)
    • Kavakli, M and Gero, JS (2002) The structure of concurrent cognitive actions: A case study of novice and expert designers, Design Studies 23(1): 25-40. (pdf)
    • Lammi, M and Gero, JS (2011) Comparing design cognition of undergraduate engineering students and high school pre-engineering students, 41st ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education, ASEE/IEEE, pp. F4F:1-6. (pdf)
    • Purcell, T and Gero, JS(1996) Design and other types of fixation, Design Studies 17(4): 363-383 (pdf)
    • Suwa, M, Tversky, B, Gero, JS and Purcell, T (2001) Seeing into sketches: Regrouping parts encourages new interpretations, in JS Gero, B Tversky and T Purcell (eds), Visual and Spatial Reasoning in Design II, Key Centre of Design Computing and Cognition, University of Sydney, Sydney, pp. 207-219.(pdf)

    For the rest you can scour my publications starting with those under In Progress.


    The people who have or are working with me on this include:

    • Brooke Bellows
    • Zafer Bilda
    • Sergey Chernyak
    • Ben Colbron
    • Kinga Dobolyi
    • Matt Dworsky
    • Michael Grubbs
    • Hao Jiang
    • Jeff Kan
    • Udo Kannengiesser
    • Manolya Kavakli
    • Pinelopi Kyriazi
    • Matthew Lammi
    • Yoon Lee
    • Elizabeth Matka
    • Tom McNeill
    • Marie Paretti
    • Morteza Pourmohamadi
    • Terry Purcell
    • Somwrita Sarkar
    • Mick Smythwood
    • Ting Song
    • Masaki Suwa
    • Hsien-Hui (Michael) Tang
    • Barbara Tversky (through Masaki Suwa)
    • John Wells
    • Chris Williams
    • Peter Williams
    • Rongrong Yu
    • Ellina Yukhina