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Cognitive Heuristic Use In Engineering Design Ideation

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Engineering Design: Implementation and Evaluation

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.282.1 - 15.282.25



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Paper Authors

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Shanna Daly University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Seda Yilmaz University of Michigan

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Colleen Seifert University of Michigan

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Richard Gonzalez University of Michigan

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Cognitive Heuristics Use in Engineering Design Ideation Abstract

Research in engineering design has revealed approaches and processes used by engineers to move through a design task. While studies have made evident general approaches in ideation, it is unclear how multiple and varied ideas are generated. When faced with a design problem, how do engineers generate multiple alternative solutions? How do they move from one idea to another? Research in psychology has shown that decision-making often relies on simplified cognitive heuristics. Heuristics are reasoning processes that do not guarantee the best solution, but often lead to potential solutions by providing a “short-cut” within cognitive processing1. Using a case-study framework, this research identified and categorized types of heuristics engineers used to explore potential designs solutions. Using a think-aloud protocol, five engineers with varying levels of experience were asked to develop conceptual designs for a solar-powered cooking device that was inexpensive, portable, and suitable for family use. Following the think-aloud session, the engineers participated in a retrospective interview designed to provide additional information on the sources of ideas, and their awareness of their own methods of ideation. The protocols were analyzed for evidence of heuristic use, and the relationship between heuristic use and the success of the designs. The results showed extensive use of a variety of design heuristics, characterized as process, local, and transitional in nature. However, the engineers in this study did not report conscious application of local heuristics, suggesting they were not aware of applying them during concept generation. Evidence for the utility of cognitive heuristics in the ideation stage is examined and suggestions for their use in engineering design pedagogy are provided.

Key Words: design, concept generation, heuristics, design strategies


Understanding both successful and unsuccessful concept generation is key to developing strategies for improving design education. Presumably, the goal of generative reasoning is to create more, and more varied, solution conjectures. The result of engineering design activity is often expected to be original, adding value to the base of existing designs by solving technical problems in new ways. Diversity in concept generation provides multiple pathways that designers can pursue and merge as they progress in design tasks, and thus concept generation can be considered successful if designers provide multiple pathways for exploration in later design phases.

However, studies have reported engineering student designers have difficulties with concept generation compared to experts in the field 2, 3. In less-experienced engineering designers, deductive reasoning has been observed, which leads to additional, and sometimes too much, problem analysis4. They have trouble generating diverse ideas and often fixate on a single concept5.

What accounts for engineers’ success at generating diverse ideas? What aspects of their overall approaches to concept generation and their local approaches to developing each concept are they

Daly, S., & Yilmaz, S., & Seifert, C., & Gonzalez, R. (2010, June), Cognitive Heuristic Use In Engineering Design Ideation Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16280

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