Research Papers: Design Theory and Methodology

Inspiration and Fixation: The Influences of Example Designs and System Properties in Idea Generation

[+] Author and Article Information
Luis A. Vasconcelos

Department of Engineering,
University of Cambridge,
Trumpington Street,
Cambridge CB2 1PZ, UK
e-mail: lal40@cam.ac.uk

Carlos C. Cardoso

Faculty Industrial Design Engineering,
Delft University of Technology,
Landbergstraat 15,
Delft 2628CE, The Netherlands
e-mail: c.m.cardoso@tudelft.nl

Maria Sääksjärvi

Faculty Industrial Design Engineering,
Delft University of Technology,
Landbergstraat 15,
Delft 2628CE, The Netherlands
e-mail: m.c.saaksjarvi@tudelft.nl

Chih-Chun Chen

Department of Engineering,
University of Cambridge,
Trumpington Street,
Cambridge CB2 1PZ, UK
e-mail: ccc54@cam.ac.uk

Nathan Crilly

Department of Engineering,
University of Cambridge,
Trumpington Street,
Cambridge CB2 1PZ, UK
e-mail: nc266@cam.ac.uk

Contributed by the Design Theory and Methodology Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received April 15, 2016; final manuscript received December 7, 2016; published online January 12, 2017. Assoc. Editor: Andy Dong.

J. Mech. Des 139(3), 031101 (Jan 12, 2017) (13 pages) Paper No: MD-16-1288; doi: 10.1115/1.4035540 History: Received April 15, 2016; Revised December 07, 2016

When tackling problems, designers might be inspired by different sources, whether concrete or abstract. The more concrete sources often comprise representations of potential solutions or examples of existing designs. The more abstract sources often represent the desirable properties of engineered systems, such as modular system architectures. We performed an experiment with 60 novice designers to compare the inspiration effects from these two types of stimuli. Participants were asked to solve a design problem, having been exposed to a concrete example design, an abstract system property, both, or no stimulus at all. Their design work was assessed according to four metrics: fluency, diversity, commonness, and conformity. Exposure to either the example design or the system property reduced the fluency and diversity of ideas, and exposure to both stimuli reduced these measures even further. While there was no difference in the inspiration effects from the example and the property in terms of fluency, diversity, and commonness; results for conformity showed that each stimulus constrained participants differently: encouraging ideas similar to one type of stimulus, while discouraging ideas similar to the other type. In combination with other work on inspiration and fixation, these findings can help shape how design is taught and how inspiration tools are developed.

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Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 1

Diagram representing the modularity property provided to participants along with the following description: “Modularity: the encapsulation of a set of elements into components that can be treated independently with respect to their functions and that share a common interface independent of their internal structures.”

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 2

Example solution provided to participants along with the following description: “A telescoping bike with parts that can be extended or shortened to fit people with very different heights. Apart from the adjustable tubes and wheels, the angles between tubes can also be modified in specific joints.” The sketch used is a modification of the Zee-K Ergonomic Bike [76].

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 3

(a) a bicycle idea, (b) a nonbicycle idea, (c) a modular idea, and (d) a nonmodular idea



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