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EIFFEL Research team

Cognition and Cooperation in Design

  • Leader : Francoise Detienne
  • Research center(s) : CRI de Paris
  • Field : Algorithmics, Programming, Software and Architecture
  • Theme : Algorithms, Certification, and Cryptography

Team presentation

Joint Research Group CNAM-INRIA Studies on reasoning in design have usually been carried out on individual problem solving activities. In response to the increasing need to assist collective work in an industrial context, more recent studies have shifted their focus. A major concern in industrial modernisation is the creation of new organisations which support collective work, greater interaction between designers and manufacturers, as well as capitalisation and reuse of design knowledge.


Cognitive ergonomics does not identify design in relation to a social function or a status, but qualifies as design tasks certain professional activities in which a set of formal characteristics can be identified. Therefore, one can identify numerous professional domains that deal with design. It can be the design of material artefacts (e.g. mechanical engineering, electronics, architecture) or the generation of symbolic or abstract devices (e.g. planning or computer programming). The aim of the EIFFEL group is to model both individual and collective design activities. Our objective is to assess and specify tools and methodologies supporting design.



Our working hypotheses are:

  • Design problem is a particular kind of problem, often qualified as ill-defined:
    • There are many degrees of freedom in the problem initial state.
    • A design problem has several acceptable solutions, not only one " correct " solution.
    • Problems tend to be large and complex. They are generally not confined to local problems, and the variables and their interrelations are too numerous to be divided into independent sub-systems.
    • One consequence of this complexity is that these problems resolution often requires that multiple competencies be put together, which leads to development of collaboration within a single working group.

  • There are cognitive invariants in the design activity whatever the application domain: e.g reuse of past designs.
  • Research work on transversal themes such as collective work or organisational memory should advance significantly by focusing on particular task domains, design tasks being one of them.
  • The nature of the approaches for supporting design should be not only technical. They are most often technico-organisational.

Our methodological approach is as following. We conduct empirical studies, either field studies or laboratory experiments. Our empirical studies examine two kinds of design situations:

  • face-to-face design situations (more generally, non-technology-mediated design situations);
  • technology-mediated design situations. The former studies concern upstream research on particular activities which need to be supported. They allow us to construct a reference model of the activity. Based on this kind of model, special support needs are identified. The latter studies allow us to assess different kinds of technological systems or methodologies.

Research themes

Research topics are organised along three directions.
  • Collective design The collective design process is guided, if not constrained, by design methodologies which prescribe design phases and their temporal organisation. Our research aims to construct cognitive models of cooperative processes involved in the use of various design methodologies: inspection methods, functional analysis, concurrent engineering, participatory design. Our objective is to assess and specify design methodologies in order to improve their usability. Our current research topics are: user participation in design, effect of design actors'role, confrontation and integration of viewpoints, co-design activity in advice situations and intention recognition. Particular attention is given to argumentative activities.

  • Design knowledge management and capitalisation Design involves constructing and using knowledge (generic versus episodic, on the process versus versus the product, domain dependent versus independent). Capitalising and managing this knowledge is a great concern in industry. Our current research topics are: extraction of case knowledge, cognitive mechanisms involved in reuse of particular design solutions, tracability of design decision, construction of generic knowledge during the resolution of particular problems. More generally, our research falls within the domain of organisational memory.

  • Individual reasoning processes in design We are mainly concerned in individual reasoning processes involved in the design and use of artefacts characterised by a spatial and/or temporal structure: multimedia documents, linguistic-graphic displays, plans of urban routes. Our current research topics are the strategies and cognitive representations used by designers and users of such artefacts. We are also interested in the perceptive modes (haptic and visual) involved in the interaction with virtual reality systems.
The Eiffel Group is a joint research group between INRIA (National Institute of Research in Computer Science and Automation) and CNAM (National Conservatory of Industrial Arts and Crafts).

International and industrial relations

The Eiffel Group is a joint research group between INRIA (National Institute of Research in Computer Science and Automation) and CNAM (National Conservatory of Industrial Arts and Crafts).


EIFFEL is involved in several national and international collaborations involving pluri- disciplinary research. Typically, we collaborate with research groups in computer science (AI, SWE, CBR, CSCW, data base, virtual reality), in engineering (software, mechanical), in cognitive psychology and, with industries involved either as providers of new technologies (e.g., Dassault Systems for CatiaV5) or as users of new technologies or methods (e.g., EADS for concurrent engineering). Our international collaborations are with Drexel University and Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal. Our national collaborations are with CNRS, Universities and other INRIA teams. Our industrial partners are: EADS, Dassault Systèmes, Matradatadivision, Renault, Cognition, MVC Matra-Automobile, Bull, Smat, Novadis.

Keywords: Cognitive ergonomics Cognitive psychology Individual design Collective design Problem solving Reasoning Cooperation Reuse Knowledge retrieval Understanding Planning Co-design Distributed design view