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AN ONTOLOGY OF DONALD SCHNS REFLECTION IN DESIGNING

JOHN S GERO AND UDO KANNENGIESSER Key Centre of Design Computing and Cognition University of Sydney

Abstract. This paper proposes an ontological account of Donald Schns notion of reflection in the domain of designing. We address two views of this notion: a functional view, describing reflection as the basis of a model of designing as an interactive process, and a mechanistic view, modelling reflection as a precursor of changes in the design. We use the function-behaviour-structure (FBS) ontology to represent both these views.

1. The Notion of Reflection in Designing Donald Schns notion of reflection-in-action (Schn 1983; Schn 1987) describes how most professional practice is based on the interconnection of thinking and action. Quoting Schn (1987, p. xi), reflection-in-action of practitioners is the thinking what they are doing while they are doing it. Reflection allows practitioners to change the way they go about solving problems; or as Schn (1987, p. 26) puts it:
In an action-present a period of time, variable with the context, during which we can still make a difference to the situation at hand our thinking serves to reshape what we are doing while we are doing it. I shall say, in cases like this, that we reflect- in-action.

Designing is one of the fields to which Schn applies his notion of reflection-in-action (or in short: reflection). He describes designing as a reflective conversation with the materials of a design situation (Schn 1992, p. 3), in which designers interact with their intermediate design representations. Specifically, designers change their view of the current design as a result of them generating and interpreting representations of the design. Schn and Wiggins (1992) illustrate this concept using the following excerpt from the design protocol of a school design task, performed by a first-year architecture student they refer to as Petra:

J.S. GERO AND U. KANNENGIESSER I had six of these classroom units but they were too small to do much with. So I changed them to this more significant layout (the L-shapes). It relates grade one to two, three to four, and five to six grades, which is more what I wanted to do educationally anyway. What I have here is a space which is more of a home base. Ill have an outside/inside which can be used and an outside/outside which can be used then that opens into your resource library/language thing.

The example shows that reflective designing can be schematised as seeing-moving-seeing (Schn 1992, p. 5): The first seeing allows Petra to observe and evaluate her current design, resulting in the recognition that the classroom units were too small to do much with. The upper part of Figure 1, taken from Schn and Wiggins (1992), shows Petras initial drawing. Her moving, i.e. her act of drawing a modified design representation (lower part of Figure 1), aims to solve this problem. Petras repeated seeing of the results of this drawing finally includes a second judgment, that the initial problem has now been solved. It also includes the recognition of a set of unintended, desirable consequences of her move, namely the spatial grouping of proximate grades, and the creation of a home base and of two kinds of spaces (outside/inside and outside/outside).

Figure 1. Petras drawings of the layout of a classroom (taken from Schn and Wiggins (1992))

According to Schns model, design concepts are the consequences, intended or unintended, of the designer moving through the state space of

AN ONTOLOGY OF SCHNS REFLECTION IN DESIGNING

possible designs. Every step of the designer through that space is seen as a move experiment, which is then taken as the basis for both evaluating previous design concepts and generating new design concepts. Reflection is a cognitive process that is the driver of this interaction of making and seeing (Schn and Wiggins 1992, p. 135). Schns choice of the term reflection-in-action fits well with where we see the focus of his work: on the role that reflection plays in action, i.e. its effect on subsequent decisions during the design process. We call this a functional view of reflection, concentrating on the observable phenomena, i.e. the designers interactions, caused by reflective activity within the designer. On the other hand, we define a mechanistic view of reflection, regarding reflection as a cognitive process with a well-defined set of distinct properties. Little work has been done in identifying these properties and studying reflection as an underpinning mechanism rather than a descriptor for the interactive nature of designing. In this paper, we will present an ontological model of reflection that accounts for both the functional and the mechanistic view. Section 2 adopts the functional view. Here we derive an ontological model of reflective designing from our earlier work on the situated function-behaviour-structure (FBS) framework, which we apply to the above design example. Section 3 provides an ontological description of reflection from the mechanistic point of view. We show how this description allows delineating reflection from other processes in designing. Section 4 concludes this paper with a summary of the benefits of our approach. 2. A Functional View of Reflection
2.1. A FRAMEWORK OF SITUATED DESIGNING

Situatedness is a paradigm that can account for the central role of Schns reflection-in-action and related phenomena reported in empirical studies of designers (Suwa et al. 1999). It provides a framework for understanding how a designers interactions affect both what is designed and the designers experience (Gero 1999), drawing on models of situated cognition (Dewey 1896; Bartlett 1932; Clancey 1997; Ziemke 1999). Gero and Kannengiesser (2004) have modelled situated designing as the recursive interaction between three different worlds: the external world, the interpreted world and the expected world, Figure 2(a). The external world is the world that is composed of representations outside the designer. This world is the designers medium for communication, either with other designers or with the designer themselves. The latter kind of communication corresponds to Schns concept of

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reflective conversation with the materials of a design situation. The materials are represented in the external world and typically include iconic and symbolic representations of the design object, such as the drawings shown in Figure 1.

Figure 2. Situated designing as the interaction of three worlds: (a) general model, (b) specialised model for design representations (after Gero and Kannengiesser (2004))

The interpreted world is the world that is built up inside the designer in terms of sensory experiences, percepts and concepts. It is the internal representation of that part of the external world that the designer interacts with. The interpreted world corresponds to what Schn (1992, p. 9) denotes as the design world, in which the objects and relationships of a design are constructed and reconstructed by the designer. This has the implication that all aspects of the design depend on the unique experience of the individual designer. For example, Schn (1992) points out that Petras judgments of her designs as being too small to do much with or more significant are fundamentally subjective; and other designers might not necessarily agree with her. The expected world is the world the imagined actions of the designer is expected to produce. It is the environment in which the effects of actions are predicted according to current goals and interpretations of the current state of the world. The expected world corresponds to the designers current design state space, i.e. the state space of all potential design solutions currently considered by the designer. This world is located within the

AN ONTOLOGY OF SCHNS REFLECTION IN DESIGNING

interpreted world, as all goals and expectations can be viewed as interpreted representations of potential future designs. In Schns design example, Petras L-shapes are the effects, represented in the external world, of her projections of a larger layout, in the expected world. The three worlds are linked together by three classes of connections: interpretation, focussing and action. Interpretation transforms variables which are sensed in the external world into the interpretations of sensory experiences, percepts and concepts that compose the interpreted world. This process includes Schns notions of seeing and worldmaking (Schn quoting Goodman (1978)). Focussing takes some aspects of the interpreted world, uses them as goals in the expected world and suggests actions, which, if executed in the external world should produce states that reach the goals. This process uses the results of qualitative judgments or appreciations (Schn quoting Vickers (1965)) of the design. If the interpretation is judged to be useful or required for the current design task, focussing integrates that interpretation into the design state space. Action is an effect which brings about a change in the external world according to the goals in the expected world. This process corresponds to what Schn calls moving, including, for instance, the act of drawing. Figure 2(b) presents a specialised form of this view with the designer (as the internal world) located within the external world and placing general classes of design representations into the resultant nested model. The set of expected design representations (Xei) corresponds to the notion of a design state space. This state space can be modified during the process of designing by transferring new interpreted design representations (Xi) into the expected world and/or transferring some of the expected design representations (Xei) out of the expected world. This leads to changes in external design representations (Xe), which may then be used as a basis for re-interpretation, changing the interpreted world. Novel interpreted design representations (Xi) may also be the result of constructive memory, which can be viewed as a process of interaction among design representations within the interpreted world rather than across the interpreted and the external world. Constructive memory is best exemplified by a paraphrase of Dewey by Clancey (1997): Sequences of acts are composed such that subsequent experiences categorize and hence give meaning to what was experienced before. The implication of this is that memory is not laid down and fixed at the time of the original sensate experience but is a function of what comes later as well. Memories can therefore be viewed as being constructed in response to a specific demand, based on the original experience as well as the situation pertaining at the time of the demand for this memory. Therefore, everything that has happened since the original experience determines the result of memory

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construction. Each memory, after it has been constructed, is added to the existing knowledge (and becomes part of a new situation) and is now available to be used later, when new demands require the construction of further memories. These new memories can be viewed as new interpretations of the augmented knowledge. In Figure 2, both interpretation and constructive memory are represented as push-pull processes. This emphasises the role of the designers individual experience that constructs or pulls new design concepts to match first-person knowledge rather than just replicates or pushes what can be seen as third-person knowledge (Gero and Fujii 2000).
2.2. THE FBS ONTOLOGY IN REFLECTIVE DESIGNING

Design representations can be viewed as describing any of three aspects of the design: function (F), behaviour (B) and structure (S). These notions are the basic constituents of the function-behaviour-structure (FBS) ontology (Gero 1990). They are defined as follows: Function (F) of an object is defined as its teleology, i.e. what the object is for. For example, some of the functions of a window include to provide view, to provide daylight and to provide rain protection. Behaviour (B) of an object is defined as the attributes that are derived or expected to be derived from its structure (S), i.e. what the object does. Using the window example, some behaviours include thermal conduction and light transmission. Structure (S) of an object is defined as its components and their relationships, i.e. what the object consists of. Examples of structure properties of a window include glazing length, glazing height and type of glass. Using the FBS ontology, we can specialise the model of situated designing shown in Figure 2(b) by replacing the variable X, which stands for design representations in general, with the more specific representations F, B and S. This results in a simplified version of Gero and Kannengiessers (2004) situated FBS framework, Figure 3. This framework serves as a model of designing as a reflective conversation at three levels: reflective conversation with design function reflective conversation with design behaviour reflective conversation with design structure The three levels of reflective conversation are connected to one another by a set of processes that transform interpreted structure (Si) into interpreted behaviour (Bi) (process 13, labelled in Figure 3), interpreted behaviour (Bi) into interpreted function (Fi) (process 14), expected function (Fei) into

AN ONTOLOGY OF SCHNS REFLECTION IN DESIGNING

expected behaviour (Bei) (process 10), and expected behaviour (Bei) into expected structure (Sei) (process 11). These interconnections allow for reflective conversation at any level to drive further reflective conversation at any other level.

Figure 3. Reflective designing as the interconnection of three levels of reflective conversation (adapted from Gero and Kannengiesser (2004))

2.3. AN ONTOLOGICAL ACCOUNT OF SCHNS EXAMPLE

We can use the processes described in Figure 3 to model the design activities in Schn and Wiggins (1992) example presented in Section 1. Table 1 shows that what Petra describes as a simple change in her design (from the six classroom units to the three L-shapes) can be modelled as a sequence of four design steps: 1. Constructive memory: Petra, after finding her initial school layout as too small, uses her design knowledge to generate a new design candidate based on three L-shapes. Figure 4 highlights process 6 to represent this design step. 2. Focussing: Petra decides to take the new design candidate as a basis for her future design moves, which includes this candidate in the current design state space. Figure 5 represents this design step as process 9.

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3. Action: Petras act of drawing, resulting in the three L-shapes, gives an externally visible account of her new design decision. Figure 6 shows this design step as process 12. 4. Interpretation: Petra visually apprehends (Schn 1992) what she has produced. This activity is subsumed in Schns notion of seeing, which is represented as process 3 in Figure 7.
TABLE 1. Schn and Wiggins (1992) example of reflective designing mapped onto the processes labelled in Figure 3 Example from Schn and Wiggins (1992) I had six of these classroom units but they were too small to do much with. So I changed them to this more significant layout (the L-shapes). It relates grade one to two, three to four, and five to six grades, which is more what I wanted to do educationally anyway. What I have here is a space which is more of a home base. Ill have an outside/inside which can be used and an outside/outside which can be used then that opens into your resource library/language thing. Processes labelled in Figure 2 Constructive memory: 6 Focussing: 9 Action: 12 Interpretation: 3 Transformation: 13

These four design steps compose what can be thought of as one cycle of Petras reflective conversation at the structure (S) level. The result of this cycle, namely the new design structure created, is then taken as a basis for discovering additional, unintended consequences of the new structure. In the example, these consequences represent (interpreted) behaviours (Bi) derived from the new structure. Figure 8 shows this as process 13. One of the new behaviours that Petra discovers may be termed person permeability. While Petra does not explicitly refer to this behaviour, she does talk about her goal of relating grade one to two, three to four, and five to six grades, something she wanted to do educationally anyway. We can view this goal as the expected function (Fei) to allow interaction between proximate grades, which can be viewed as being previously transformed into our postulated expected behaviour (Bei) person permeability via process 10. Other interpreted behaviours (Bi) that Petra derives from her new L-shaped design deal with features that she refers to as a home base and as outside/inside and outside/outside. The complete design protocol

AN ONTOLOGY OF SCHNS REFLECTION IN DESIGNING

Figure 4. Step 1 of reflective conversation with design structure: Constructive memory (process 6)

Figure 5. Step 2 of reflective conversation with design structure: Focussing (process 9)

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Figure 6. Step 3 of reflective conversation with design structure: Action (process 12)

Figure 7. Step 4 of reflective conversation with design structure: Interpretation (process 3)

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Figure 8. Consequences of reflective conversation with design structure: Deriving new behaviour from structure (process 13)

presented by Schn (1983) shows that these features are used, later in the design process, as a basis for further, reflective moves through the design state space. 3. A Mechanistic View of Reflection The ontological framework we have presented so far assumes a functional view of reflection. It provides a level of description that captures the designers interaction with the design situation but is too coarse-grained to represent reflection as an underlying process. This Section switches from the functional to a mechanistic stance, which aims to provide a more detailed ontological representation of reflection as a precursor for the designers reflective conversation. Schns descriptions of reflection, from a mechanistic perspective, imply the use of memory: We think critically about the thinking that got us into this fix or this opportunity; and we may, in the process, restructure strategies of action, understandings of phenomena, or ways of framing problems (Schn 1987, p. 28). Two characteristics of reflection can be inferred from Schns descriptions: first, self-reference, as previous thoughts and thinking are re-produced, and, second, change, as these thoughts and thinking are modified and adapted in the light of the current situation. The

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characteristics of self-reference and change fit well with two of the definitions provided by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, summarising the physical meaning of reflection: the production of an image by or as if by a mirror (which maps onto self-reference) and the action of bending or folding back (which maps onto change). Constructive memory, introduced in Section 2.1, can be seen as subsuming reflection, as it references itself through recalling previous experiences and modifies them to match the current situation. The primary kinds of experiences reflected on in designing are experiences with design objects. Design objects can be described by their function, behaviour and structure. Therefore, we can represent reflection as being captured by processes 4, 5 and 6 shown in Figure 3. Accordingly, we can define three levels of reflection: reflection on design function reflection on design behaviour reflection on design structure This representation can be further elaborated, using an approach to reflection that is more process-centred. Specifically, we use Gero and Kannengiessers (2006) idea of applying the FBS ontology to processes as the object of designing. To introduce this idea, let us first look at the example of a thermal stress analysis process. A possible function (F) of such a process may be to operate time-efficiently. This function can be ascribed to the behaviour (B) speed of the process. The structure (S) of the thermal stress analysis process, like any other process (Gero and Kannengiesser 2006), consists of three components: an input (i), a transformation (t) and an output (o). Figure 9 describes the structure (S) of an instance of a thermal stress analysis process. It includes a given geometry and temperature (as a property external to the design) as the input (i), the sequence of steps of a finite element analysis (FEA) as the transformation (t), and a set of stresses as the output (o). These three components are connected to one another by two unidirectional relationships, i t and t o.

Figure 9. The structure (S) of an instance of a thermal stress analysis process

Let us now use the FBS ontology to model the process of reflection on design objects. To better distinguish between the FBS view of the reflection process and the FBS view of the design object, we will add the abbreviations F, B and S in brackets only to the function (F), behaviour (B) and

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structure (S) of the reflection process, not to the function, behaviour and structure of the design object being reflected upon. Table 2 shows the results of applying the FBS ontology to the three levels of reflection defined earlier in this Section. We can see that they differ in their function (F) and partially in their structure (S), but exhibit the same behaviour (B). The different functions (F) are specific to the subset of the design state space (i.e. function state space, behaviour state space and structure state space) that each level of reflection aims at modifying. The same behaviours (B) are used for all three levels of reflection to evaluate the achievement of these functions (F). As shown in Table 2, we propose that two behaviours (B) play a major role in reflection: the accuracy with which the result of the reflection solves a given design issue (e.g. the ability of Petras L-shapes to solve her too small to do much with problem), and the novelty1 of the result with respect to the previous design solution. The structures (S) of the three levels of reflection differ in the respective types of input (i) and output (o). The fundamental similarity in the structure (S) of all three levels of reflection is their homogeneity, as their inputs (i) and outputs (o) are always of the same type. The notion of homogeneity is equivalent to the idea of self-reference. The representation shown in Table 2 can be used to separate reflection processes from other processes in designing. The homogeneity of their structure (S) is unique. For example, all processes of design synthesis are heterogenous, as they take design behaviours, as input (i), and produce design structures, as output (o). All design analysis processes are also heterogenous. They transform design structure (and, eventually, given external effects), as input (i), into design behaviour, as output (o), irrespective of their instantiation as, for instance, thermal stress analysis, kinetic analysis or cost analysis. Our ontology can also be used to highlight similarities between reflection and other processes. For example, the function (F) of reflection is the same as the function (F) of (re-)interpretation (captured by processes 1, 2 and 3 in Figure 3). For example, the function to modify the (design) structure state space is the same for reflection on design structure as for re-interpretation of design structure (via process 1 in Figure 3). Furthermore, the transformation (t) of both process structures (S) is of the push-pull type. The design object being reflected on does not have to be physical. We may equally apply reflection to objects in virtual environments. The very notion of an object may even be generalised to include processes. Business process reengineering (Davenport 1993) is a common example for a

See Saunders and Geros (2004) notion of novelty as a measure for the interestingness of designs
1

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discipline concerned with (re-)designing processes. In our ontology, reflecting on a process can be described as taking a property of the process as input (i) and subjecting it to a push-pull transformation (t), which produces an alteration of that property as output (o). Depending on the classification of the property as function, behaviour or structure of the process, the reflection can be put into one of the three categories presented in Table 2. Figure 10 shows the example of the structure (S) of reflection on the behaviour of a design process, here on the speed of the process producing a preliminary design concept.
TABLE 2. Three levels of reflection described using the FBS ontology Process Reflection on design function Process function (F) to modify the (design) function state space Process behaviour (B) Process structure (S) i = interpreted design function t = push-pull transformation o = interpreted design function i = interpreted design behaviour t = push-pull transformation o = interpreted design behaviour i = interpreted design structure t = push-pull transformation o = interpreted design structure

accuracy, novelty

Reflection on design behaviour

to modify the (design) behaviour state space

accuracy, novelty

Reflection on design structure

to modify the (design) structure state space

accuracy, novelty

Figure 10. The structure (S) of reflection on the speed of the process producing a preliminary design concept

In some cases, reflection is applied to processes that are referred to as strategies. One distinguishing feature of strategies is that the transformation (t) components of their structure (S) are viewed as actions or sequences of

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actions. Reflecting on design strategies is most clearly an instance of designers thinking what they are doing (Schn 1987, p. xi). Most research in reflection on strategies comes from work in management science and is mainly understood from a functional perspective. Here, the term strategizing has been established to denote the interactive construction of new strategies through reflective conversation (Cummings and Wilson 2003). Strategizing combines the traditional idea of top-down implementation of pre-formed strategies with more recent models of bottomup recognition of new strategies as patterns in a stream of actions (Mintzberg and Waters 1985). An episode of Schns (1983) protocol of Petras design session can be used to illustrate reflection on a design strategy. Take Schns (1983, p. 93) analysis of the protocol:
At the beginning of the review, Petra is stuck: [Petra:] Ive tried to butt the shape of the building into the contours of the land there but the shape doesnt fit into the slope. Quist [Petras studio master] criticizes her framing of the problem, pointing out that she has tried to fit the shapes of the buildings into the contours of a screwy slope that offers no basis for coherence. Instead, he resets her problem: [Quist:] You should begin with a discipline, even if it is arbitrary... you can always break it open later.

Schn (1983, p. 85) explains that what Quist means by discipline is a building geometry that is imposed upon the screwy site to provide coherence. This geometry may be broken open later, i.e. partially dissolved and replaced against another one. We can interpret Quists re-framing of the problem as a reflection on Petras initial design strategy. The desired function of the strategy remains unchanged to generate a coherent composition of the building shape and the site. What is primarily changed by Quists reflection process is the structure of the strategy, Figure 11. The structure of Petras initial strategy is composed of the given site (as input), the adaptation of the building shape to that site (as transformation), and a coherent buildingsite compound (as output). Quists reflection uses this structure as input (i) and transforms (t) it into an altered structure as output (o). The altered structure consists of a building geometry (as input), the configuration of the site using that building geometry (as transformation), and a coherent buildingsite compound (as output).

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4. Conclusion Our ontology of Schns model of reflection has the potential to advance design research in three ways:

Figure 11. The structure (S) of reflection on the structure of a design strategy in Schn (1983)

1. Increased understanding of the notion of reflection: Our ontological framework provides a semi-formal representation for both the functional and the mechanistic view of Schns notion of reflection. We claim that this is an essential condition for enhancing the very understanding of this line of work. In particular, the mechanistic view clearly distinguishes reflection from other design generators. We have extended Schns model by proposing three levels of analysis: the function level, the behaviour level and the structure level. Most research on reflection, including Schns work, can be located at the structure level. Further understanding is needed at the other two levels. 2. Multidisciplinary integration: We have shown that our ontology can be applied to reflection irrespective of the specific instantiation of the design object being reflected upon. This provides a uniform framework for comparing and integrating the research from different design disciplines. In particular, research findings related to reflection on strategies and processes can now be viewed in a form that allows easier access from traditionally object-centred disciplines such as design research. 3. Framework for further research: Our ontological approach to reflection can be used as a point of reference for further studies. Most research has delivered a functional view of reflection, focussing on its role in the course of designing rather than on its mechanisms. The largest gap in our knowledge of reflection concerns the transformation (t) component of its structure (S).

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Current research efforts at our Key Centre are directed towards describing the push-pull mechanism of constructive memory in more detail. Acknowledgements
This research is supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council, grant no. DP0559885 Situated Design Computing.

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