Cognitive efficiency describes how individuals optimize limited mental resources to achieve improvements in learning and problem-solving. Research on expert performance and expertise has shown that expert designers structure the organization of cognitive actions more efficiently than novices. However, cognitive efficiency in engineering design processes has not been well studied because of technical limitations at the neurological level and lack of quantitative methods for analyzing information contained in designers’ cognitive processes at the performance level. The purpose of this study is to introduce Kolmogorov complexity to measure information contained in the changes of sketches generated by designers. The Kolmogorov complexity of each design move is calculated by the number of cognitive actions and transitions between different levels of information processing. In this study, sketches and verbal protocols generated by 15 participants were analyzed. Cognitive efficiency was determined by the quality of design outcomes and the expenditure of mental effort. The results indicate that Kolmogorov complexity is negatively related to cognitive efficiency; the higher the Kolmogorov complexity, the lower the cognitive efficiency.

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