Teemu Leinonen, Media Lab UIAH & Janne Mikkonen

Bisociation Tool - Victor Papanek's "Paper Computer"

Latest version:

Bisociation Tool - Beta

Earlier versions:

Versio: Beta 0.0.4 - Semi-functional UI prototype

On This Page: Version Beta 0.0.4 - UI Dummy

How to use Bisociation Tool
Links for Developers
Other Related Links
Development Notes

Design Task Response Words Balance Sheet Classification
(1) Enter the object or solution to be designed.
(2) Get nouns (and pictures) arbitrary picked up from a dictionary.
(3) Enter your design solutions.
(4) Select and mark a heading for each solution.
View or email a summary of your bisociation session. The email and the summary are in XML-format for easy further study and exploitation.
Email the results to:

How to use Bisociation Tool

Bisociation Tool is a problem-solving tool to gain new and innovative solutions in design. With the tool you can "feed" your mind's association power and discover unique solutions to your design task.

The tool is based on individual problem-solving method developed by Victor Papanek and documented in his book Design for the Real World (1984, 177-181). According to Papanek's description to use the method you need a pen, some slips of paper and notes. He emphasize that this kind of tools are no more than "externalization of a short memory aid, a sort of 'paper computer(s)'". This Bisociation Tool is made to bring the Papankek's "paper computer" to the digital world. Although working now in a computer and Internet it is still no more than a tool for short memory aid. You still must do the actual creative work yourself.

There are five simple steps to take when having a Bisociation Session with the tool:

(1) Write your design task to the first text field. The task can be just the name of the object under design, for instance a "chair".

(2) Then get from the database six randomly selected nouns. These words are called "response words". You can get a picture of each word by clicking the "Get pictures from Google" -link. This will make an image search to the web with Google and will return for you (most likely) a picture of each word next to the text.

(3) Now it's time to get to the association. Have a look of the design task and the first word/image in the list and start to associate. Think how they could be related to each other and what kind of ideas they together generate in your mind. Example: "Chair/Bicycle: a bicycle seatlike "perch" could provide excellent temporary seating for assembly line workers". When you get an idea or solution write it down to the Balance Sheet. Write all your ideas related to all the "respond words" to the Balance Sheet. There is no rule "one word/image one idea". If you don't get any ideas try with new words/images.

(4) After writing down your idea(s) or solution(s) select from the text field each of them and choose the most convenient class for each. The meanings of the classes are explained below on this page.

(5) When you are ready with your session press the button "Summary file" and you will get an XML-file where all your ideas are structured udenr the headings, for easy further study and usage. You can also send the file in your email. You are done!

(We are working on to make the Bisociation Tool to work so that you could straight from the tool submit your idea as a patent application to the Patent Authorities. No - not really. But in future we could work out some nice printing style sheet for the XML so that it would be easy to continue the design work with a pen on a paper where the ideas generated with the tool are nicely displayed.)

About the Classification
The Classification means giving a heading for each solution telling how much time it will require to implement the solution described in the Balance Sheet. The Classification of the solutions should happen after the ideas are written down to the Balance Sheet. This way the free association will not be disturbed with thoughts about how and when the idea could be implemented. The meaning of the headings are (according to Papanek):

  • Now - a product or system that can be made immediately.
  • 2-5 Years - a concept not quite ready for immediate production.
  • 4-10 Years - an answer leading to long-range product or system planning.
  • R&D - a solution that sounds reasonable, the feasibility of which may have to be determined by the Research and Development department.
  • Gimmicks - Something an idea results that has nothing to do with the product itself but rather develops a new merchandising gimmicks.
  • Others - Frequently ideas may emerge that don't solve the specific design problem at all. Nonetheless they may be innovative answers to problems beyond the scope of the inquiry and may be developed for other clients. (Papanek 1984, 177-178)

[Developer note: When selecting the text and marking it under one of the headings the text should be highlighted according to the colour of the class (possible if the implementation will be done with Flash, maybe this could be implemented with the HTML-area, too?). Also the class buttons should be presented with the colours of the classes.]

Links for Developers

Random word generator JavaScript - In the current dummy user interface I am using this JavaScript. In the version 1.0 there should be some word list used, see below.

FOSS Word Lists - FOSS word lists that could be used to bring the random nouns to the user interface.

Google Random Image - Idea to generate, not only random nouns (respond words), but also images - with a little help from Google.

HTML-area - The Classification feature (select and mark a heading for each solution) could be maybe implemented with the HTML-area tool. I think Moodle developers have made it more cross-platform. We should have a look of the version available in their CVS Repository. The code is in the director lib/editor.

Other Related Links



Development Notes


I wrote a contextual process scenario of the usage of the tool. The scenario is only in Finnish. Here:

Suunnittelijan tulee suunnitella uusi tuote tai konsepti tuotteesta. 
Hän kirjoittaa suunniteltavan tuotteen / idean nimen "Design Task"-kentään 
ja hakee tietokannasta kuuteen "Response Words"-kenttään satunnaisesesti - 
1000 yleisimmän substantiivin listasta - sanoja. Sanojen lisäksi 
suunnittelija voi hakea avuksi kuvia sanoista (kuvat haetaan Googlella).

Tämän jälkeen suunnittelija miettii tehtäväänsä ja satunnaisia sanoja (ja 
kuvia), ideoi niihin perustuvaa uutta tuotetta ja raportoi ideansa "Balance 
Sheet" -kenttään. Ideoiden kirjaamisen jälkeen suunnittelija arvioi 
millaisella aikajänteellä jokainen idea voitaisiin toteuttaa, riippuen 
siitä kuinka haastava toteutus on teknisesti. 

Kun tehtävä on suoritettu suunnittelija voi ottaa järjestelmästä itselleen 
"yhteevetosivun" jossa mainitaan (1) suunnittelutehtävä (Design Task), 
(2) käytetyt ideointi sanat (Response Words) ja (3) syntyneet ideat 
kategorisoituna valmiin luokittelun mukaan. 

Yhteenvetosivun voi esimerkiksi tuoda tekstinkäsittelyohjelmaan tai tulostaa 

Tekstidokumentin tekemista varten saatava yhteenvetosivu sisaltaa 
valmiin sisallysluettelon (outline) siten, etta kategoriat ovat dokumentin 
otsikkoja ja niihin liittyva sisalto asetettu jokaisen otsikon alle. 
Dokumentin johdantokappaleessa manitaan suunnittelutehtava ja kaytetyt 

A3-tulosteessa  suunnittelutehtävä ja ideointi-sanat sijaitsevat 
sivun yläreunassa ja jokaiselle idealle on oma rajattu alue jossa kirjattu 
idea on harmaalla tekstillä taustalla. Näin tuotettujen kirjallisten ideoiden 
"päälle" voidaan piirtää luonnoksia. 


I made icons for the UI:
Get a word
Get a picture
I also made two background textures to get Mac OSX look and feeling (only the first one is in use now):
Texture 1
Texture 2


Meeting with Janne. The version in Janne's server is now a "semi-functional" prototype. The system is able to use word lists from a text file with words, mark the text in the "Balance Sheet" and generate the XML.

Janne made also a working prototype of the google image search.

Tommi made us a file with 1000 most common English nouns (source: British National Corpus). This will be used to get the "Response Words".

ToDo - 05.11.2004 - deadline 15.01.2005


- kappalejaon jalkeen valinnan nollaus 
- merkaamisen highlight + napppien varit 

- Pop-up / kuvien selailu-liittyma 

(3) XML
- xml-fiksaus: sahkopostiin / pritattavaan version tulostukseen 
- XML:aan mukaan myos: 
(1) "Design Task" (se mita suunniteellan / ekassa tekstikentassa)
(2) "Response Words" (sanat joita suunnittelussa kaytettiin)

- ikonit: hae sana / hae kuva
- tulostuksen style sheet 
- dokumentaation ja helppien kirjoittaminen ja  jarjestely useammalle "alasivulle"


I made some minor editing of the documentation. I think we really neeed the Goolge image search functionality and some kind of "sharing your results with other people" practice. This way the tool will more utilize the fact of being web based tool.


valinta "nollataan" - merkkaminen highligh / nappien v Mikkonen made a HTML-editor that is able to do the classification tags. The buttons should have a colour code and the selected text should be higlighted with these colours.


Hmm.. maybe the implementation should be somekind of html-form, JavaScrip, PHP thingy. The HTML-area is an interesting product from this point of view, as well. lkeen valinta "nollataan"


I wrote "How to use Bisociation Tool"- section (version 0.1). Now it's hoepfully more clear what is this tool about.

Some weeks ago

About the Balance Sheet
The Balance Sheet text field is now very small. However, the idea is that you can enter to the same field several solutions and separate them to paragraphs. The Balance Sheet looks now (naturally) very much a web form's text box. If implemented with Flash it should look more a text editor with the toolbar aside (the classification buttons).

About the XML
The XML file should contain the following tags and structure (don't know XML, just guessing):

Design Task - /Design Task
    Date - /Date
        Now      -  /Now
        2-5      -  /2-5
        5-10     -  /5-10
R&D      -  /R&D
        Gimmicks -  /Gimmicks
        Others   -  /Others

By creating the XML-file of the results of the bisociation session one can study and view the results in several different ways with different XML-parsers.

(2) Implementation Possibilities
The tools could be implemented in many different ways. Right now I feel that Flash would be he best environmet to build up the application. With Flash we could:
  • Do the highlighting text feature in the Balance Sheet.
  • Get the UI fast to use (no post/get methods).
  • Make the UI fancy.
  • Possibility to implement another application (browser) in which you could brign your XML-file(s) for further study and analyses.

On the otherhand all this can be maybe done just with the HTML-forms, JavaScript and HTML-area tool.

Further Development Ideas
The Bisociation Tool could be used with some mindmap / idea organizer software so that first the group members are doing individual session with the Bisociation Tools and then they bring their result summary files to one software where the solutions are discussed and further classified, organized and selected.

If this is the Bisociation Tool for doing the input, there could be also a browser to look for the results of the sessions. In the browser the ideas could be shown in a colourful drag-and-droppable "postit notes" classified (with colours) according to the classification made in the session.


Giedre and Andrea for reflection and comments.
Ilja for fixing the JavaScript in the very first version.
Rasmus and/or Jon for the CSS.
Andrea for links.
Tommi for the word lists.