Engineering design thinking combines concepts from heterogeneous sources like personal experience, colleagues, digital and hardcopy media. Despite this challenge, modes of thinking across levels of abstraction through multi-dimensional (spatial) representations are widely neglected in digital support systems. This paper aims to summarize lessons learned through years of experience with software tools that augment this visio-spatial conceptual thinking. This work cuts across disciplines to provide a needed, coherent starting point for other researchers to examine complex outstanding issues on a class of promising support tools which have yet to gain widespread popularity. Three studies are used to provide specific examples across design phases, from conceptual design to embodiment. Each study also focuses on an exemplar of diagrammatic software: the University of Cambridge Design Rationale editor (DRed), the Institute for Human Machine Cognition’s (IHMC) CmapTools and the Open University’s Compendium hypermedia tool. This synthesis reiterates how hypermedia diagrams provide many unique, valuable functions while indicating important practical boundaries and limitations. Future research proposed includes: a need to build more diagrammatic literacy into engineering practice, the need for more detailed studies with experts in industry and specific directions for refining the hypermedia diagram software interfaces.

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