The effects of representation and analogy on engineering idea generation
Atilola, Olufunmilola O.
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The use of examples in idea generation is a common practice intended to provide inspiration from existing products to the designing of new ones. Examples can be taken from the Internet, engineering textbooks, analogical databases, literature, a company’s prior designs, or from a competitor company, prior work by the designer, and many other sources. These examples are represented in various ways, such as hand sketches, pictures, computer-aided designs (CAD), physical models, activity diagrams, shape grammars, text descriptions, etc. Design representations can also be broken down by function in the form of functional models and decompositions. The use of these visual or physical examples allows engineers to get a clearer picture of how a design or component works and enables them to have a better understanding of the overall design and function. Each representation has inherent advantages and disadvantages in the way that they portray a design. Examples are sources for analogies. Analogies from nature, where biological organisms have solved challenging problems in novel ways, are very useful in engineering idea generation and solution retrieval. This process is called biologically inspired design. Engineers often use biologically inspired design to solve problems while increasing creativity and expanding the solution space. Using this method, engineers are able to learn from nature and apply biological principles to real world engineering problems to make effective designs and produce innovative solutions. It is important to have a clearer understanding of how the use of the representations and characteristics of examples as external stimuli affect the idea generation process in engineering design. Understanding these processes will be invaluable in offering guidelines for how engineering design should be done and what types of external stimuli should be used to allow for innovation and creativity to be enhanced. This dissertation presents four studies that focus on understanding ways that examples can be used to improve the idea generation process. Three of these studies focus on how the representation of externally imposed examples, which may be used as analogues, influences creativity during idea generation while also minimizing design fixation, which occurs when designers adhere to the features of their own initial design solutions or to features of existing examples. The fourth study focuses on the use of examples as sources for analogical mapping and how these examples produce innovative solutions during idea generation. The first study compares CAD, sketch, and photograph representation presented individually. The second study compares CAD and sketch representation presented together, and the third study examines function tree and sketch representations. The fourth study looks at the real-world context and impact of examples used as sources for analogical mapping to inspire innovative solutions. The results of the studies show that CAD representations of good examples are effective in allowing engineers to identify the key working principles of a design and help to develop higher quality design concepts. CAD representations also cause more fixation to the example’s features. Function trees do not cause nor break fixation compared to a control condition, but do reduce fixation compared with sketches. Biological examples can be successfully used as analogues during engineering idea generation to create novel and effective design solutions to relevant and real-world engineering problems.