Daniel Smithwick, David Kirsh, and Larry Sass
To study how designers explore ideas when making physical models we ran an experiment in which architects and undergraduate students constructed a dream house made of blocks. We coded their interactions in terms of robotic pick and place actions: adding, subtracting, modifying and relocating blocks. Architects differed from students along three dimensions. First, architects were more controlled with the blocks; they used fewer blocks overall and fewer variations. Second, architects appear to think less about house features and more about spatial relationships and material constraints. Lastly, architects experiment with multiple block positions within the model more frequently, repeatedly testing block placements. Together these findings suggest that architects physically explore the design space more effectively than students by exploiting material interactions. This embodied know-how is something next generation robots will need to support. Implications for material-based robotic interaction are discussed.