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As a primary cognitive ability with vast applications, Visual Imagery is very challenging to be described. The generally accepted use of visual imagery is referred to the ability to form mental representations of objects without sensory input and to transform these representations in the mind (Kosslyn, 1995). Visual imagery abilities are divided into two independent categories: one for visual appearances of objects and one for their spatial representation (). Described by cognitive neuroscience evidence, object-visualization and spatial-visualization abilities have separate visual processing pathways in the brain (). Recent research indicates that these visual ability preferences (spatial vs object) are different among individuals. There are two types of visualizers namely, object visualizers (artists) and spatial visualizers (scientists) (). However, the visual imagery preference of designers as a particular group is not yet clearly understood.

 In the light of recent events in cognitive science, there is now growing interest about visual imagery abilities among design researchers (). For instance, experiments on visual analogy (), visual thinking (), and visuospatial reasoning () are carried out by several groups of experts studying design cognition. A neglected area in previous work is……

The first question that arises is where do designers stand in this ability? for further educational implications.


This paper examines the object and special visual abilities of design students at Herberger Institute in order to….

So What? Justification



Mental health


lack of previous work

possible benefits

Individual profiles in team work

design is related to both art and science

creative imagery

Design has been studied mostly as part of visual art or only architectures not other groups


In particular, this research looks into “Visual Imagery Abilities” (Kosslyn..) that have been empirically studied in laboratory contexts and have shown influence in different areas of education like (r). There is a considerable amount of literature on the relation of visual imagery abilities and science education math engineering. As far as is known, this is the first time that the relation between visual abilities and design thinking is being explained and introduced as a potential for further educational implications.

Scope & Limitations

cognitive science-based approaches to 

Herberger Design School

Spatial and Visual

The visual-object and visual-spatial abilities of design students were contrasted with the scores of engineering students

Research Questions


 Design Students OV


Design Students SV












Literature Review



First Conceptual Framework

Design Thinking at the confluence of Art, Science, and Innovation

–        What is Design Thinking?

–        Design Thinking as a new liberal art

Importance of Visual Imagery in Art, Science, and Design

–        What is visual Imagery?

–        Object vs Spatial Visualization

–        Design Cognition

Theory of Creative Imagery

–        Vividness

–        Transformation

–        Originality

Second conceptual framework

Visual Imagery as a Division of Mental Imagery

–        Fantasy

–        Imagination

–        Visualization

–        Ethics of Imagery

Third conceptual framework
















As an innovative domain which has strong connections to both art and science, design thinking demands educational strategies which address fundamental cognitive skills which support success in both art and science. Visual Imagery Abilities has attracted attention and are related to success in art and science. Creative Imagery is known as a work which has both dimensions in it.

In this chapter, the literature that supports the connection of design thinking to both art and science are introduced.

 Then the nature of Visual Imagery and its relation to art and science is overviewd.

At the end, the dimensions of creative imagination as a proof for the importance of combining both skills are represented.


Design Thinking at the Confluence of Art, Science, and Innovation

What is design thinking?

Design thinking as liberal art of technological culture

In the Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, Buchanan (1992), explores the relationship between design, science, and the arts. He traces the evolution of design thinking from a trade activity to a “new liberal art of technological culture”. He considers design as a flexible field which covers a variety of ideas and methods from the fine arts, natural sciences and social sciences. In his perspective, design thinking in the 21st century is undergoing a significant practical as well as theoretical transformation that widens its dimensions to unexpected meanings and connections.

Buchanan suggests we should not mistakenly identify design as a division of the sciences or the arts. However, it is a field that integrates useful intuitions from the arts and science in order to resolve wicked problems of the present.

Design thinking as artereality

Shank and Schnapp (2007) coined the neologism Artereality as a new platform for interdisciplinary art education arising in the Stanford Humanities Lab. Artereality has a discipline-dynamic approach toward the production of art objects rather than design as a pure creation. Project-based and performance-based education is the heart of artereality. Shank and Schnapp (2014) claimed the possibility of considering design thinking as artereality in the service of business innovation:

“what we named “artereality”,  is what also gets called design thinking.  Typically explored in relation to business process and the pursuit of creative innovation, design thinking as artereality also offers a model for revitalized practice-based arts and humanities in the contemporary academy that sees fit to challenge isolated disciplinary silos.

Taken together design thinking as artereality as well as a new liberal art, would suggest the following implication:


1. Art

2. Science

3. Innovation






Visual Imagery in Art and Science

What is Visual Imagery?

Visual Imagery is the ability to represent and manipulate internal images of objects not present to the sight (). Kosslyn’s theory of visual imagery or the Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery was among the vigorous debates on the nature of visual mental imagery from the late 1970s until early 1980s. Despite its evolution over the time (Kosslyn, 1994), The major focus of his theory has always been on the nature of visualization experience and its underlying cognitive and neurological fundamentals. (Tye, 1991).

Figure 1 illustrates the basic architecture of the Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery. This represents what might occur when someone tries to answer whether a fox has pointed ears: The person first constructs a mental image of a fox, and then inspects ears in that image. The mental image of the fox in this model is a “quasi-picture” or “surface representation,” which is constructed based on information from “deep representations” or descriptive data stored in long-term memory (LTM). Then the “mind’s eye” analyzes it to extract the required information, which is a fox’s ear shape in this example.

In his introduction to mental imagery, kosslyn (1980, p?) refers to “deep representations” as information which is not directly available to the consciousness. Explain more about Deep representation. His theory is significantly inspired by an analogy between “deep representations” and computer graphic files containing saved data. This metaphor draws one’s attention to similarities between the creation of viewable pictures on the computer’s CRT monitor from CPU information, and the construction of “surface representations” from “deep representations” in Long-Term Memory.


Object vs Spatial Visual Abilities

According to the theory of visual imagery, there are two types of mental imagery, Object Visualization, the ability to form visual appearance of objects (e.g. visualizing the car next to the building) and Spatial Visualization, the ability to manipulate spatial representations ( e.g. rotating and manipulating shapes in mind).()

Visual-object ability is believed to be an independent component of intelligence which is related to specialization in art and supports abstract-object visualization (Blazhenkova and Kozhevnikov, 2010). This ability has functional and anatomical characteristics of its own. For instance, object visualizers are able to form high resolution and vivid images of objects and scenes in their mind and report imagery preferences for visual properties of objects such as shape and color (). A number of studies have found that the visual-object scores of visual art professionals and students are above average when compared to those of engineers and social scientists (). Moreover, individuals with significantly higher object scores tend to interpret abstract art as abstract representation, whereas scientists and humanities professionals who interpret abstract art literally or with irrelevant information ().

The visual-spatial subsystem is responsible for processing spatial properties of objects () and guiding movements (Milner & Goodale, 1995). Kosslyn () describes that spatial representations consist of a “map” for locations of objects and their parts depicted by distinct points. The ability to form these representations is significantly correlated with success in mathematics, physics, engineering, and science (). Professionals and students of these fields show remarkable higher spatial test scores comparing to visual artists and social scientists (). Spatial intelligence also supports abstract spatial-visual representation such as diagrams and graphs ()          

Neuroscience research demonstrates distinct brain pathways for each of these two abilities. The object pathway for object visualization and the spatial pathway for spatial visualization (Courtney, Ungerleider, Keil, & Haxby, 1996; Ungerleider & Mishkin, 1982). The object pathway or ventral system runs ventrally from the occipital lobe to the inferior temporal lobe which is responsible for the ability to process information about visible properties of objects and their pictorial characteristics (e.g. color, shape, texture). The spatial pathway, also known as occipitoparietal or dorsal system runs dorsally from the occipital lobe to the posterior parietal lobe (figure) and its role is to process object spatial localization and mental spatial transformation. ().

Dimensions and Applications of Visual Imagery

_Difference in neurological capability from zero to hyper



Creative Visual Imagination








Visual Imagery as a Division of Mental Imagery

Second conceptual Framework





Visual Imagery


All Senses



Only visual representations

















In addition to visual imagery, there are three other words designated to this definition in the literature; Fantasy, Imagination, and Visualization. Although visual imagery is incorporated into all these words, each of them suggests educational dimensions which are not considered by the rest of them. With this in mind, the following chapter is mainly focused on the concept of forming images in front of the mind’s eye, rather than a specific term that stands for it. However, in this paper, the term Visual Imagery (VI) as a word specifically designated to this meaning is being chosen to refer to this concept. The main reason for this approach is to uncover the overlooked educational dimensions of this significant mental capability. The vast dimensions of visual imagery that embrace art and science, are suggested as a new platform for design education which is at the intersection of art and science. At the end, spirituality as a goal of problem-solving, completes this platform as by bringing design practices attention to the importance caring about self, society, and nature.


The word fantasy is from the Proto-Indo-European root “Bha” which means “to shine” and the Greek word Phantazein meaning “make visible” or “display” (1). Fantasy is among the technical terms of the 18th century which were abandoned after quantification of science by the mid-19th century (2). As a word implying one of the non-rational human dimensions, this term is transmuted from the meaning of Phantasia in Aristotle’s De Anima (3) which has broad applications to the processes involved in memories, thoughts, and dreams (4), to the definition of imagination which is reproducing image of an object in front of the mind’s eye in the absence of that object (2). Or.. mention pleasure here.

The term Phantasia has been used by Aristotle to refer to the human ability that acts as a bridge between the worlds of sensation and logic. In his literature, Phantasia is a continuum of all five senses not just vision and is clearly distinguished from perception and mind (). Aristotle highlights that images of Phantasia are false for the most part because they are up to man’s wishes rather than reality. However, they provide the basis for making assumptions and are significant in thinking and reasoning processes (Nicholas of Cusa). He explains another importance of Phantasia as they are the origins of metaphors ().

He takes Phantasia to a further step and describes its broad range of applications.

Aristotelians criticize the rigidity of practical reasoning in today’s education and its lack of emotion.




Third conceptual framework





Object-visual Imagery

Spatial-Visual Imagery


Abstract Object Visualization

Abstract Spatial Visualization


Coherent imagination model

other dimensions of imagery and imagination

Do we need only Two types of Visual Imagery in design education?

Spirituality, Moral Imagination


The fact is that we can direct our imagery for different goals . It could be pleasure, learning(memory expansion_, problem solving, self expression, healing, therapy, individuation, empathy, Creativity, spirituality

How these findings could be informative for (design educators practice), including visual abilities….

Although these cognitive abilities have not been center of attention for design educators, we aim to assess the influence of design education on visual abilities.

At the end, we propose a plan to bring these abilities to the center of attention of design thinkers.

This erea in neuroscience carries implications for education.

The mechanisms underlying visual Imagery.

In order to emphasize on necessity of this topic we needed to answer the question how design education influences these abilities so far.


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