Rational design theory: a decision-based foundation for studying design methods
Thompson, Stephanie C.
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While design theories provide a foundation for representing and reasoning about design methods, existing design theories do not explicitly include uncertainty considerations or recognize tradeoffs between the design artifact and the design process. These limitations prevent the existing theories from adequately describing and explaining observed or proposed design methods. In this thesis, Rational Design Theory is introduced as a normative theoretical framework for evaluating prescriptive design methods. This new theory is based on a two-level perspective of design decisions in which the interactions between the artifact and the design process decisions are considered. Rational Design Theory consists of normative decision theory applied to design process decisions, and is complemented by a decision-theory-inspired conceptual model of design. The application of decision analysis to design process decisions provides a structured framework for the qualitative and quantitative evaluation of design methods. The qualitative evaluation capabilities are demonstrated in a review of the systematic design method of Pahl and Beitz. The quantitative evaluation capabilities are demonstrated in two example problems. In these two quantitative examples, Value of Information analysis is investigated as a strategy for deciding when to perform an analysis to gather additional information in support of a choice between two design concepts. Both quantitative examples demonstrate that Value of Information achieves very good results when compared to a more comprehensive decision analysis that allows for a sequence of analyses to be performed.
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