How Interaction Designers Use Tools to Manage Ideas and What We Can Learn from It

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


This dissertation is the result of my work in the CIBIS project (Creativity In Blended Interaction Spaces), under the broader scope of illuminating what happens when design ideas emerge, as well as how ideas are represented and transformed across devices and spaces. This dissertation contributes to understanding how professional interaction designers use tools and systems to manage design ideas in their private and professional lives. I have gathered an extensive amount of qualitative data from empirical observations, surveys, interviews, and design idea archive walkthroughs, to form a detailed understanding of the complexities and dynamics in play in professional idea management. I have primarily applied a grounded theory approach to the data, developing analyses and frameworks solidly grounded in the field and participant views.
The dissertation is a contribution to the field of interaction design, and draws upon related fields (Human-Computer Interaction [HCI], creativity research and cognitive science) to help understand the complex dynamics in play in professional, technology-supported idea management practices.
Idea management can be characterized as the processs of capturing, organizing, retrieving and collaborating on ideas [Inie and Dalsgaard 2017; Efimova 2009; Barreau 1995] in multiple media forms [Coughlan and Johnson 2008]. Idea management is a salient discipline for professional interaction designers, a subcategory of creative professionals in a general sense. Professional interaction designers are in the business of transforming the current state of events through the introduction of something novel [Biskjaer et al. 2010]. Ideas are key to this transformative creative practice. Yet we do not know much about how to define design ideas, how idea management unfolds in professional practice, how different tools and systems are utilized to accomplish creative goals, or how technology might support creative and efficient idea management for professional interaction designers.
Interaction designers face various challenges when working with tools, among these organizational barriers, the ever-changing state of technology, as well as technical difficulties [Dow et al. 2006]. They work with digital materials on a daily basis, and they employ an extremely versatile assemblage of digital and analog tools throughout their career, yielding rich empirical evidence for answering the research questions. Interaction designers have a broad array of analog and digital tools available to aid their idea management, from sticky notes and notebooks to digital tools such as smartphone galleries and Trello (Figure 1). Such tools are distinguished by their ability to support and extend the limited cognitive systems and abilities of humans, and previous research has shown promising results in their support of creative thinking as well [Smith et al. 2009]. Humans are highly resourceful at exploiting their environment to extend their cognitive capabilities [Scaife and Rogers 2005, Kirsh 2009], hence there is great potential in analyzing and understanding the cognitive benefits that particular representational formats and technologies may provide - among these, the potential to support professional design ideation [Scaife and Rogers 2005].
The collective contributions of the dissertation are the following:

I identify and analyze definitions of the concept “design idea”, as it has been used in research up until now, and unfold the meaning of the concept by identifying and analyzing externalized instances of design ideas from professional interaction designers’ archives.

I identify a theory of the actions involved in idea management of professional interaction designers. Based on this theory, I develop a framework of strategies of tool-use, based on the creative objectives tools fulfill to professional interaction designers.

Finally, I identify four design opportunities for novel, digital idea management tools under the headings of ‘utilizing the potential of the design idea archive’, and ‘increasing focus on the creative designer’.
The dissertation consists of this framing document as well as six research papers: five peer-reviewed and published articles, and one article under review. Each of the papers is summarized and reflected upon in connection to the others in this introductory frame. In this document, I also reflect on the cumulative findings of the papers, and how they are relevant for researchers, developers and designers, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherAarhus Universitet
Number of pages169
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


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