Design Principles for Tools to Support Creative Thinking

We have developed a set of “design principles” to guide the development of new creativity support tools – that is, tools that enable people to express themselves creatively and to develop as creative thinkers. Our goal is to develop improved software and user interfaces that empower users to be not only more productive, but more innovative. Potential users of these interfaces include software and other engineers, diverse scientists, product and graphic designers, architects, educators, students, and many others. Enhanced interfaces could enable more effective searching of intellectual resources, improved collaboration among teams, and more rapid discovery processes. These advanced interfaces should also provide potent support in hypothesis formation, speedier evaluation of alternatives, improved understanding through visualization, and better dissemination of results. For creative endeavors that require composition of novel artifacts (e.g., computer programs, scientific papers, engineering diagrams, symphonies, artwork), enhanced interfaces could facilitate exploration of alternatives, prevent unproductive choices, and enable easy backtracking.

Some of these design principles have appeared previously [Myers 2000][Shneiderman 2000][Resnick 2005][Yamamoto 2005][Hewett 2005][Selker 2005]. These principles have emerged through collaborations with a large number of colleagues, in the development of many different creativity support tools, both for children and adults. Some of the principles are also relevant to tools for creating software in general, often called “User Interface Software Tools,” but targeting tools specifically for creativity highlights new perspectives and requirements.

In our analysis, we focus especially on “composition tools” — that is, computational systems and environments that people can use to generate, modify, interact and play with, and/or share both logical and/or physical representations. A creative composition process is not a routine production process that can be prescribed, and what tools and representations people use strongly affect their courses of actions and thought processes [de la Rocha, 1985][Zhang, 1997][Shirouzu et al. 2002].

While it is difficult to study “creativity” itself, we can study the process by which creative people and teams work, and embody their best practices in tools that can aid others in emulating those processes. Examples include the IDEO design team “brainstormer” process has been nicely documented and used by many other organizations [Kelly 2001] and the widely-used TRIZ method for systematic innovation [Mann 2002]. Strategies for studying creativity support tools are discussed in this report’s section titled “Creativity Support Tool Evaluation Methods and Metrics.”

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