Studies of design cognition often face two challenges. One is a lack of formal cognitive models of design processes that have the appropriate granularity: fine enough to distinguish differences among individuals and coarse enough to detect patterns of similar actions. The other is the inadequacies in automating the recourse-intensive analyses of data collected from large samples of designers. To overcome these barriers, we have developed the problem map (P-maps) ontological framework. It can be used to explain design thinking through changes in state models that are represented in terms of requirements, functions, artifacts, behaviors, and issues. The different ways these entities can be combined, in addition to disjunctive relations and hierarchies, support detailed modeling and analysis of design problem formulation. A node–link representation of P-maps enables one to visualize how a designer formulates a problem or to compare how different designers formulate the same problem. Descriptive statistics and time series of entities provide more detailed comparisons. Answer set programming (ASP), a predicate logic formalism, is used to formalize and trace strategies that designers adopt. Data mining techniques (association rule and sequence mining) are used to search for patterns among large number of designers. Potential uses of P-maps are computer-assisted collection of large data sets for design research, development of a test for the problem formulation skill, and a tutoring system.

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