Claudia Colombo | Sovrascritture
My thesis project is about the way in which students take notes on images, I did a serie of surveys and I projected an app to study art history.
thesis project, editorial design, research, cognitive psychology, interaction design, art history, note taking, notes, study, method, ios app, images, writing, text, art history notes, storia dell'arte, app, studenti, liceo, high school, appunti, immagini, sovrascritture,
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Sovrascritture  {OverWritings}

Editorial Design
Data Visualization
Interaction Design
Individual Project
BA Thesis Project
ISIA Urbino
Oct 14-Mar 15
Research in Cognitive Psychology
Semiotic Analysis
Prototyping Visual Design

→    Brief Description

My thesis project is a research about the relationship of “overwriting” between the images and the text which describes them. In sum I studied the spontaneous ways in which students take notes about images (in particular Art History images, like artworks) in relation with them, and I finally used the theories I found during the analysis process to project an iOS iPad App to study Art History the high school. This project will be exposed at ISIA Design Convivio and here is a reference .

→    Achievements

1 ›  Experimentation of two kind of survey method: Questionnaire and Qualitative Analysis of the notes.

2 › The challenge of transform the scientific theories analyzed to project a concrete, simple and usable product for the learning environment.

Aldous Huxley quote

Phase 1 →  Historical use of the notes + Cognitive load and processes + Value and the role of images

First of all I’ve done a quick research about the historical value of the notes. In particular a brief analysis of the Marginalia and the kind of marks used for take it on the ancient manuscripts, like the famous Maniculae  (Reinassance Pointing Hands). I’d like to highlight the really interesting book of William H. Sherman about this topic.


Also I was really interested in how our brain works, in a cognitive way, when we take notes. I’ve focused a great part of the research on this topic thanks to researches done especially by Annie Piolat and Tamas Makany (and some others).

Smart Wisdom

Phase 2 →  Collecting Notes + Dispense the Exercise + Dispense the Questionnaire + Analysis of all

I analysed the different way in which Art History students take notes on images and some of the digital supports born with this function. I went to my high school and asked to my ex Art History teacher if I can do an experiment in 3 of her classes for a total of 56 students. She allowed me to collect the spontaneous notes of all the classes in particular conditions. The first phase of my experiment was the observation of the students’ behaviour during their usual method of work, they didn’t know that I observed their work. The teacher usually gave them a photocopy with some artworks that aren’t on the book and they interact with this stuff in different ways. After I collected those notes in order to analyse them.

Then I gave them a questionnaire to understand how they use the three tools for study: the book, the notes and internet. In this phase emerged that the most of them are usually habit to re-write the notes. For this reason I prepare a new sheet on which they can re-write the contents, but at that time the image was isolated, coloured, and in the centre of the sheet (with similar margins around). I observed the changing of them behaviour.

3D Blank exercise

The following is the way in which I analysed all the notes (exercises but also spontaneous). I overwrote these notes by using colours with low opacity with the same degree of brightness but different tone, in order to give them the same hierarchical value perceived by the eye. They’re just different. Each of those colours points out one of the categories of information I found in the analysis which can be textually or visually expressed.

A sample way in which students behaved in this condition.
Notes taked
The result when all the layer of information are visible.
 Title, Author, Iconography, Technique, Size, Material, Date, Museum.
ID information
Objects, Things, People and Personalities.
Elements informations
More about the usage of the tools and the creation of the effects.
Technic tools and effects
Elements position, Geometrical grids and vectors, Configuration.


→ methods of disposition the information (linear, non linear, mixed)

→ categories of information and them treatment

→ usage of the image like a reference system
→ usage of the captions if present to pick up informations

→ usage of the margins and the in-between spaces
→ usage of the relation marks (selectors, connectors and highlighters)
→ usage of hierarchy through consistent aggregates

→ usage of drawn reproductions of the image

→ usage of supports further than the only image

Levels of overwrote analysis
It was the second class examined, 22 students available with an average age of 15.
It was the third class examined, 23 students available with an average age of 16.
It was the first class examined, 11 students available with an average age of 18.


Phase 3 →  Find a right media for a better experience + Meet the needs of students and teacher + Propose a new experience of study

Thanks to all the theories I acknowledged in the first two phases and all the needs that came out from the analysis I was able to propose a project. I designed about 60 screens of an iOS iPad app called ἔκfrasi that could allow the students to:

→  add notes on images, not just text but voice notes too (language)

→  add drawn or geometrical notes on images (image structure)

→  deepen all the ID information with the artwork (connections)

→  visualise the notes on image in two screen modality (cognitive style)

→  work in team on an image, with teacher management (share notes)

→  search and compare more images, one near others (awarness)



My goal didn’t include the substitution of the experiences that already work well. The “paper way of study”, according with several researches, lowers the cognitive load and consolidates the knowledge in memory in a way not substitutable yet. My goal was simply to add to the experience of study, something that the paper currently isn’t able to give (yet?).


— If you’d like to know more about my thesis project feel free to ask me anything.