|March 7, 2017
J. Mech. Des
, (2017); doi: 10.1115/1.4036129
Objective: Maps have long been advocated to support thinking with loosely-structured design information. This article presents research to evaluate the application of mapping software known as the Decision Rationale editor (DRed) in the aerospace engineering industry. Specifically the research explains what mapping methods are used, in what context engineers find them more or less useful and why. Method: Semi-structured interviews were performed with fourteen engineers representing diverse departments and experience levels to investigate DRed use. Nineteen use cases were collected ranging from high-profile, multiple-stakeholder projects to everyday individual work. Results: The results validate long-standing mapping methods like Design Rationale Capture and Root Cause Analysis, and provide practical evidence for new methods like Requirements Management and the Function Analysis Diagram as well as for informal ones like Personal Information Management. The context of mapping methods use tended towards: system-level decisions that cut across sub-system boundaries; irregular intervals between map applications; dealing with loosely-structured information; individual or small team collaborations; and application on problems without particular urgency. The reasons for use, as articulated by engineers, point towards support for design thinking, communication and planning. Conclusion: Using empirical evidence of its recurring use on high-profile design projects, this research shows that DRed is a powerful and practical tool for engineers in industry. The understanding gained on mapping software demonstrates a shift in emphasis from the enrichment of the engineering record to the provision of immediate cognitive benefits for engineers.