Worlds and transformations: Supporting the sharing and reuse of engineering design knowledge

Zdrahal, Zdenek; Mulholland, Paul; Valasek, Michael and Bernardi, Ansgar (2007). Worlds and transformations: Supporting the sharing and reuse of engineering design knowledge. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 65(12) pp. 959–982.



Design involves the formulation of a solution, such as a product specification, from initial requirements. Design in industrial and other contexts often involves the building and use of models that allow the designer to test hypotheses and learn from possible design decisions prior to building the physical product. The building and testing of models is a design process in its own right.

Previous work in knowledge management, design rationale and the psychology of design has demonstrated that designers often vary from prescriptive methodologies of the design process and have problems appropriately describing their design activity in order to support design collaboration and the reuse of design artefacts. Drawing on this work, we support design collaboration and reuse structured according to key transformational episodes in the design process and the design artefacts they produce. To support this, we characterise the design task as progressing through a series of worlds, each comprising its own concepts and vocabulary, and supported by its own design tools. The design process can then be described in terms of important transformations that are made from one world to the next. This allows a targeted approach to rationale capture integrated with work practice and associated with products of the design process.

This approach has been successfully deployed and tested in two industrial engineering companies. Findings included improved collaboration in design teams, effective reuse and improved training for new members of the design team. This work has more general implications for the development of design rationale methods and tools to support the design process.

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