Conceptual design is a high-level cognitive activity that draws upon distinctive human mental abilities. An early and fundamental part of the design process is problem formulation, in which designers determine the structure of the problem space they will later search. Although many tools have been developed to aid the later stages of design, few tools exist that aid designers in the early stages. In this paper, we describe Problem Formulator, an interactive environment that focuses on this stage of the design process. This tool has representations and operations that let designers create, visualize, explore, and reflect on their formulations. Although this process remains entirely under the user's control, these capabilities make the system well positioned to aid the early stages of conceptual design.

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