Computer Aided Design (CAD) software can be difficult to learn. A major contributor to this entry barrier is CAD interfaces’ usage of symbols associated with CAD operations. This paper studies which symbols minimize recall time and optimize retention via two studies. We performed an initial exploratory study to identify which 2D symbols intuitively describe common CAD operations. Then we conducted a second study with three separate groups using different input methods to test which input method improves retention and recall time. Each group used one of three input methods: choosing preexisting Autodesk CAD operation symbols, choosing our 2D symbols derived from the symbol study, and physically drawing those same symbols. We measured participants’ accuracy and time spent on each question. The results indicated that there is a decrease in the time taken to submit responses, which correlates to recall time. The group physically drawing the symbols improved the most compared to the group selecting the symbol study symbols and the group selecting Autodesk operation icons. For retention, as measured by correctness, our statistical analysis indicates that there does not appear to be a significant difference between the three groups.

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