Research: Design


Studying architectural design, I became interested in design theory & methods: How does design “work”? Is there, or could there be, (in Herbert Simon’s phrase), a “science of design”? How can designers work systematically? My PhD advisor was N.John Habraken, known for developing design methods for buildings and urban tissue. I began to build software experiments, to capture and convey methods in code. One theme is design rules, or constraints and designing as exploring constraints. Constraint based tools enable designers to express relationships among the elements of their designs, adding interactive behaviors to those elements. My CoDraw program demonstrated this, but it looked too much like programming for designers at that time (1980s). I saw that designers prefer to draw to investigate and develop ideas, so I built a sketch-recognition software (the Electronic Cocktail Napkin and its family of related programs) to provide an interface to knowledge based design.  This served as a platform for a variety of investigations, into shape-based retrieval and analogy, constraint-based sketching, collaboration and coordination, and critiquing.



3 R’s Drawing and Design Computation

2004 A report on computational sketching software systems to support Recording, Reasoning, and Resolving in design.

Ambiguous Intentions

1996 Sketch software acquires information about ambiguity and precision, represents it internally, and echoes it to users visually through constraint driven edit behavior.


1990 An end-user-programmable object-oriented CAD program with interactive graphical constraints.

Computational Thinking and a Science of Design

2009 This article argues that a computationally expressed science of design is essential for benefiting from revolutions in desktop manufacturing and embedded computing.

Computer Aided Architectural Design

2000, 2008 Three papers on computer aided architectural design.

Concept Design Games

1987 A set of games to teach abstract principles of designing.

Construction Kit Builder

1990 – 1996 A computational design environment for defining, then working with, a system of components and placement rules.

Design Amanuensis

2001 Constructing a machine-readable multimedia document from design speech and sketch actions, which can be replayed and searched.

Design as Exploring Constraints

1984 PhD dissertation: Constraints are an appropriate computable representation for design knowledge.

Design Evaluator

2004 A freehand sketch system with design critiquing.

Design Learning Environments

1999-2009 Six articles reflecting on experience teaching tangible interaction and computational design.

Design Research Summer School

2007 A summer workshop on design research to prepare students to do research about the nature of design or a class of designs.

Design Theory & Method

1984 – 2009 Articles in favor of developing systematic methods of design.

Digital Clay

1998 Sketch recognition software constructs three dimensional digital models from isometric drawings.

Drawing Analogies and Shape-Based Diagram Retrieval

1995… Sketch to retrieve items based on visual similarity.

Electronic Cocktail Napkin

1994 … An environment for sketching and diagramming in conceptual design served as a platform for various investigations.

Erstwhile Agent

2011 An evolutionary approach to automatically synthesize modular robot constructions to meet desiderata.


2006 A code-based design environment for rapid prototyping with laser cutters or 3D printers.


2001 A simple yet powerful programming language for generating three-dimensional geometry.

Furniture Design Critic

2008-2013 A computational model of design critiquing that considers conditions such as the user’s knowledge and interaction history.

Furniture Factory: A Sketch-based System for Fabrication

2006 A sketch design system helps novices construct physical furniture models using a laser cutter.

Gesture Modeling

2001 Desktop video capture and gesture recognition for three dimensional modeling,

Grids in Design

1991 Grids and placement rules offer a discipline to help a designer lay out complex designs, facilitating group design work.

Hyperforms: Self-Reconfiguring Materials

2011 Design of, and interaction with, programmable matter.

Immersive Redliner

1999 Designers embed annotations and proposed design changes in a three-dimensional design model.

Interactive Fabrication

2011 Interfaces and devices that take real-time input to fabricate physical form.

Light Pen

2003 A lighting design assistant driven by sketching on 3D virtual models.

MUD – Multiple-stakeholder Urban Design

1997 An environment for collaborative urban design.


1999 A server-client object oriented draw program for collaborative design, with support for design hisory.

Paper Mechatronics

2015 A novel interdisciplinary design medium enabled by recent advances in craft technologies.

Pen Computing

1996, 1997 Two papers on mobile pen computing.

Posey & Escape Machine

2008, 2009 A physical construction kit instrumented to capture assembly and configuration information and convey it to a host computer.

Representational Talkback

1999 ART (Amplifying Representational Talkback) investigates types of talkback and representations for writing as design.

Self-Designing Systems

2009 The roBlocks reconfigurable robot construction kit and Erstwhile Agent, an evolutionary design system.

Shape Emergence

2001 A computer based assistant uses pattern recognition to anticipate human designers’ perception of emergent shapes.

Sketch It, Make It

2012 A sketch design tool for design for laser cutters and 3D printers, now Zotebook.

Smart Objects

2001 Design intentions are embedded into objects as constraints and expressed as behaviors.

Software Design

2003 – 2013 Miscellaneous notes on software design.

Space Pen

2001-2004 Annotation and drawing on (and inside) 3D models to exchange text and sketched annotations for review.


1994 A pen-based draw program combines recognition of hand-drawn glyphs with maintenance of spatial relations.

Thinking with Diagrams in Architectural Design

2001, 2009 A paper on the use of freehand diagrams in architectural design.

Visual Languages and Visual Thinking

2009 Sketch based software should recognize drawing as visual language. Keynote for Eurographics/ACM Symposium on Sketch Based Interaction and Modeling.