All new creations must be based on one’s previously acquired knowledge. In this view, the way in which prior knowledge is organized, accessed, and exploited is fundamental for understanding constructive thought involved in generative tasks. Fixation is often cited as a significant obstacle to solving design problems productively. However, an understanding on the ways that fixation affects idea generation is still relatively limited. This paper presents two design experiments that were designed to evaluate the occurrence and effects of fixation in design idea generation. The first experiment showed that idea generation has a characteristic temporal nature. Designers began by generating ideas from the most common categories, and as these categories were explored they moved on to generate ideas from more novel categories. The second experiment was focused on the use of pictorial examples to stimulate design. The results showed that the timing of idea exposure affected performance in a comparative sense, whereas exposure effects were mostly independent of the commonality of the stimulus ideas. This research highlights a number of factors that influence idea generation performance in design, including sampling probability, time-cycle, and exposure effects.

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