Research Papers

Design by Analogy: A Study of the WordTree Method for Problem Re-Representation

[+] Author and Article Information
J. S. Linsey

 Innovation, Design Reasoning, Engineering Education & Methods (I-DREEM) Lab, Department of Mechanical Engineering,Texas A&M University, 3123 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843jlinsey@tamu.edu

A. B. Markman

 The Similarity and Cognition Lab,Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station A8000, Austin, TX 78712markman@psy.utexas.edu

K. L. Wood

 Professor and Head of PillarEngineering and Product Development (EPD) Pillar, and Co-Director of the International Design Center, Singapore University of Technology and Design, 20 Dover Drive, Changi, Singapore 138682kristinwood@sutd.edu.sgring

J. Mech. Des 134(4), 041009 (Apr 04, 2012) (12 pages) doi:10.1115/1.4006145 History: Received November 21, 2010; Revised January 26, 2012; Published March 28, 2012; Online April 04, 2012

This paper presents a novel approach, referred to as the WordTree design-by-analogy method, for identifying distant-domain analogies as part of the ideation process. The WordTree method derives its effectiveness through a design team’s knowledge and readily available information sources (e.g., patent databases, Google) and does not require specialized computational knowledge bases. A controlled cognitive experiment and an evaluation of the method with redesign projects illustrate the method’s influence in assisting engineers in design-by-analogy. Individuals using the WordTree method identified significantly more analogies and searched outside the problem domain as compared to the control group. The team redesign projects demonstrate the WordTree method’s effectiveness in longer-term, more realistic, higher validity team projects and with a variety of different design problems. Teams successfully identified effective analogies, analogous domains, and analogous patents. Unexpected and unique solutions are identified using the method. For example, one of the teams identified a dump truck and panning for gold as effective analogies for the design of a self-cleaning cat litter box. In the controlled experiment, a cherry pitter was identified and implemented as a solution for designing a machine to shell peanuts. The experimental results also highlight potential improvements for the method and areas for future research in engineering design theory.

Copyright © 2012 by American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Topics: Design , Teams
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Figure 1

Steps in human reasoning by analogy

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Figure 2

Basic steps of WordTree design-by-analogy method

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Figure 3

Detailed View of the WordTree design-by-analogy method

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Figure 4

Sticky-note WordTree

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Figure 5

Rotational brainwriting

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Figure 6

Creation of the WordTree allows analogies and analogous domains to be identified. A partial WordTree for the function of “fold” is shown. Analogous domains for folding include sailing (douse a sail, reef a sail) and machining processes (cog: roll steel ingots). Two analogies based on mechanism for dousing a sail that are effective for solving the laundry folding problem are shown.

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Figure 7

WordTree method as presented to the experiment participants during lecture

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Figure 8

Modified WordTree design-by-analogy method implemented for the controlled study

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Figure 9

Peanut sheller design problem for the experiment

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Figure 10

Part of the WordTree provided to the participants

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Figure 11

Another analogy identified and implemented by a participant in the WordTree group was a cherry pitting device. The participant’s solution is shown on the right.

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Figure 12

An analogous solution found (right) based on an egg peeling device (left) by a participant in the WordTree group

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Figure 13

A device to split bean and pea pods (left), located by one of the WordTree condition participants, provides an analogous solution (right) to the peanut shelling problem

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Figure 14

Participants in the control group only found within domain solutions to the peanut shelling problem. This solution is a hand-powered device that removes the shell from the peanuts (“Full Belly Project,” 2006).

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Figure 15

Analogies and analogous domains identified by a team who was redesigning a self-cleaning cat litter box




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