Interpreting Idea Maps: Pairwise comparisons reveal what makes ideas novel

Faez Ahmed, Sharath Kumar Ramachandran, Mark Fuge, Sam Hunter, Scarlett Miller, Journal of Mechanical Design 141 (2) (2018).
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Assessing similarity between design ideas is an inherent part of many design evaluations to measure novelty. In such evaluation tasks, humans excel at making mental connections among diverse knowledge sets to score ideas on their uniqueness. However, their decisions about novelty are often subjective and difficult to explain. In this paper, we demonstrate a way to uncover human judgment of design idea similarity using two dimensional idea maps. We derive these maps by asking participants for simple similarity comparisons of the form “Is idea A more similar to idea B or to idea C?” We show that these maps give insight into the relationships between ideas and help understand the design domain. We also propose that novel ideas can be identified by finding outliers on these idea maps. To demonstrate our method, we conduct experimental evaluations on two datasets—colored polygons (known answer) and milk frother sketches (unknown answer). We show that idea maps shed light on factors considered by participants in judging idea similarity and the maps are robust to noisy ratings. We also compare physical maps made by participants on a white-board to their computationally generated idea maps to compare how people think about spatial arrangement of design items. This method provides a new direction of research into deriving ground truth novelty metrics by combining human judgments and computational methods. Open-Source code implementing our approach is available at:

BibTeX Citation

  title={Interpreting Idea Maps: Pairwise comparisons reveal what makes ideas novel},
  author={Ahmed, Faez and Ramachandran, Sharath Kumar and Fuge, Mark and Hunter, Samuel and Miller, Scarlett},
  journal={Journal of Mechanical Design},
  publisher={American Society of Mechanical Engineers}