Mediated Analogy: From Practice to Theory to Collaborative Technology
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Biologically inspired design espouses the adaptation of functions and mechanisms in biological systems to solve engineering problems in innovative ways. Analogy occupies a central place in biologically inspired design cognition. One aspect of analogy that has come to the fore through our in situ studies of biologically inspired design is the notion of mediated analogy, where the process of obtaining source analogues relevant to the target is significantly mediated by the external environment consisting of people, tools and media. A theory of mediated analogy is developed here which focuses on how analogists use external information environments, or mediational means, when engaging in analogical problem solving. This theory is then used as a basis for analyzing the affordances or lack thereof of common online information environments (e.g., Google Scholar, Web of Science) used by biologically inspired designers for supporting mediated analogy. Two general principles that can be applied to enhance the affordances of such environments to better support mediated analogy are also derived from this theory: the principle of proximal cues systematicity and the patch consumption principle. These two principles are applied to develop Biologue, a novel online collaborative knowledge-sharing environment that is designed to better: (1) facilitate the exchange of scholarly biology articles between biologists and engineers, and (2) promote conceptual understanding of biological systems discussed in those articles among engineers, both in the service of aiding the practice of biologically inspired design.