While a large subset of work within the design research community has demonstrated that supportive stimuli (e.g., analogies) are a powerful assistive tool for designers, little is known about the cognitive processes enabling inspiration during design activity. To provide insight into this open question, a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment was developed to study design concept generation with and without support from inspirational stimuli (N = 21). The stimuli provided in this work were words given at varying levels of abstraction from the design problems and were meant to support cognitive processes similar to analogical reasoning. Results from this work demonstrate that inspirational stimuli of any kind (near or far from the problem space) improve the fluency of idea generation and illustrate the moments during ideation that such stimuli can be used as a supportive tool. Furthermore, neuroimaging data help to uncover distinct brain activation networks based upon reasoning with and without inspirational stimuli. We find that the successful application of inspirational stimuli during concept generation leads to a specific pattern of brain activation, which we term “inspired internal search.” Prior work by the authors has demonstrated an impasse-based activation network that is more prevalent in the absence of inspirational stimuli. Together, these brain activation networks provide insight into the differences between ideating with and without inspirational stimuli. Moreover these networks lend new meaning to what happens when a presented stimuli is too far from the design problem being solved.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.