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Discussion: ideas for creativity support tools here.

Here are some ideas for IT tools to support & enhance creativity:

Tools to Support & Enhance Creativity

Tools and other artifacts can be seen as extensions of humans. IT tools can extend and support cognitive systems and abilities of humans, such as working memory, long-term memory, concept formation, visualization, and analogy. Cognitive abilities involved in creative cognition include set-breaking (enhanced by contextual shifting), conceptual combination and extension, transfer of analogies from remote domains, and visual synthesis. Here are some proposed tools that could be developed that might support and extend creative cognition.

1. Emergent Combination: This tool already exists; combinFormation, is already being developed and tested. A mixed-initiative tool that learns of the user’s intentions and desires and that produces navigable compositions derived from websites on the internet and/or digital libraries. Such a tool is based on the idea that novel combinations can produce emergent effects. Other tools that enable and encourage creative combinations are also desirable.

2. Loose Associater: Divergent thinking and remote association might be enhanced by a database that would respond “free-association” style with loose associations that are normatively weakly related to search terms entered by the problem-solver. The strength of association could be an adjustable parameter.

3. Analogizer (immersion embodied): Analogy and metaphor are critically important tools in creative breakthroughs. IT tools that enable and enhance analogical transfer, particularly in a “smart” (as opposed to completely random) fashion, would be useful in almost any domain of creative endeavor. Such a tool should have at least two basic functions: 1. It should find and suggest vehicle domains that might be relevant to the topic at hand, and 2. It should facilitate the structural mapping of relations in the topic and vehicle domains to explore the extent of potential analogous ideas. If the Analogizer were cast within an immersive virtual environment, the personal embodiment of the user could make analogies more apparent and more compelling.

4. Design GPS: A “Global Positioning System” that can locate a current design within a design space would give a designer more explicit knowledge and awareness of designs that are in-progress. Such a design space would specify values or features of various dimensions of a design, thereby highlighting not only where new steps in the design are likely to go, but also what alternative values or features might be considered by the designer. Designs that are prematurely concrete or overly specified can sometimes benefit from more abstract thinking. A Design GPS should make more apparent how to move a design to more general and abstract locations within a design space.

5. Electronic Brainstorming Tools: Brainstorming is a widespread and useful method for idea generation, and has been in use for decades. However, researchers have known for quite some time that group brainstorming incurs a productivity deficit; that individuals working alone, relative to those working in groups, usually produce ideas that are more plentiful, more original, and higher quality. Research is needed to diagnose and find remedies for these deficits. Electronic brainstorming tools are already in use, but they need to go far beyond the original notions of brainstorming. For example, sharing of ideas can be accomplished in more formats and modalities than simple text lists of ideas.

6. Invisible Blocking Assumption Detector: When people are solving problems that require creative solutions, they are susceptible to fixation, that is, impasses that can be caused by implicit assumptions about the problem. Because they are implicit, these fixating assumptions are invisible to the problem solver, and they block successful solutions in ways that cannot be recognized. IT tools that can help reveal these implicit fixating assumptions would be a valuable instrument that would speed up the creative process. Implicit knowledge and assumptions are difficult to reveal, particularly by the person who holds those assumptions. One method for revealing implicit assumptions is to articulate ones ideas to others, with the hope that in the course of explaining one’s work, the implicit assumptions may become explicit. An IT tool that could fulfill this role of “partner” to the problem solver might systematically push the problem solver to make problem representations more explicit.

7. Shape Search: An IT search tool based on shapes drawn from designs-in-progress would search the internet or digital libraries for objects that contain the same shapes. Such a search engine would be more effective if the shapes in question were based on functional shapes, more than simply geometric forms. This tool would find links to digital resources containing both geometrically and functionally related objects. Such objects might be useful for triggering analogies that could be relevant to the conceptual designer’s work.

Steve Smith


I'm not sure this is the place to add material to the above, in which case apologies. I want to add that here at West Virginia University, Virtual Environments Laboratory, we've been working with the idea of "filters" as a way to extend creative ideas, in particular a "wild" creativity that may lead to unexpected consequences and configurations. We're working for example with some relatively old motion-capture equipment, and Gary Manes has rewritten the interface between the sensors and the bvh file out, to include the possibility of modifying the appearance of subsequent behaviors when the files are fed into Poser, Second Life, etc. A filter might do nothing more than exaggerate movement, or diminish it, but it can do more, substituting tan for sin for example in the 3-d modeling process. By playing around with this, even someone not familiar with the ins and outs of mocap can create new dynamic representations. This idea of filtering comes of course from Gimp or other graphics programs filters, but we've extended it through time-based media; we've also been able to apply it directly to text (with Perl programs designed by Jim Reith and Florian Cramer). I find this work exciting, and exciting for participants/viewers, since it opens up the idea of a world of dynamic processes which need not be taken for granted; everything is modifiable. I can imagine any number of creative tools for students, new media artists, etc., coming out of this.

Alan Sondheim

Last modified 1 April 2008 at 12:35 am by sondheim