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Exploring the Effects of Problem Framing on Solution Shifts: A Case Study

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Idea Generation and Creativity in Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.734.1 - 26.734.29



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Paper Authors


Samuelina M. Wright University of Michigan

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Samuelina Wright recently graduated from the University of Michigan with her BSE in Mechanical Engineering. She has worked in design and ideation research for over a year. Her focus has been on quantifying the diversity of solution sets, studying design problem framing, and exploring paradigm relatedness. She is interested in engineering education, which is where her passion for teaching and her technical background in engineering overlap. As an engineering designer herself, she is interested in understanding individuals’ ideation processes and how those processes can be improved and expanded.

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Eli M. Silk Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Orcid 16x16

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Shanna R. Daly University of Michigan Orcid 16x16


Kathryn W. Jablokow Pennsylvania State University, Great Valley

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Dr. Kathryn Jablokow is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Design at Penn State University. A graduate of Ohio State University (Ph.D., Electrical Engineering), Dr. Jablokow’s teaching and research interests include problem solving, invention, and creativity in science and engineering, as well as robotics and computational dynamics. In addition to her membership in ASEE, she is a Senior Member of IEEE and a Fellow of ASME. Dr. Jablokow is the architect of a unique 4-course module focused on creativity and problem solving leadership and is currently developing a new methodology for cognition-based design. She is one of three instructors for Penn State’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Creativity, Innovation, and Change, and she is the founding director of the Problem Solving Research Group, whose 50+ collaborating members include faculty and students from several universities, as well as industrial representatives, military leaders, and corporate consultants.

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Seda McKIlligan Iowa State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Yilmaz is an Assistant Professor of Industrial Design. She teaches design studios and lecture courses on developing creativity and research skills. Her current research focuses on identifying impacts of different factors on ideation of designers and engineers, developing instructional materials for design ideation, and foundations of innovation. She often conducts workshops on design thinking to a diverse range of groups including student and professional engineers and faculty member from different universities. She received her PhD degree in Design Science in 2010 from University of Michigan. She is also a faculty in Human Computer Interaction Graduate Program and the ISU Site Director for Center for e-Design.

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Exploring the Effects of Problem Framing on Solution Shifts: A Case AnalysisBoth students in engineering and practicing engineers are continually challenged with newproblems to solve. We propose that the way the problem is presented will influence theengineer’s ideation processes, and eventually, the design outcomes. In our previous research, wedeveloped three categories of framings for design problem statements based on Kirton’sAdaption-Innovation theory: (1) neutral framing, (2) adaptive framing, and (3) innovativeframing. The neutral framing is intended to leave designers uninfluenced with respect to theirnatural ideation processes. The adaptive framing offers additional constraints to the problem,encouraging designers to generate practical solutions based on pre-existing designs. Theinnovative framing is constructed to push designers towards radical solutions that are not basedon pre-existing designs. In this paper, we aimed to test to what extent and in what ways studentsshift their design ideas based on how the design problems were framed.A study was conducted with 36 prospective engineering students participating in a high schoolsummer outreach program at a large Midwestern university. Students were first given a neutrallyframed problem statement and asked to generate solutions to the problem using visual and verbaldepictions. After this ideation session, they were given either an adaptively or innovativelyframed problem statement for a different design problem. Following each ideation session,students were asked to complete a reflection survey to provide some insight into how theyperceived their own ideation during the session.We used the concept of paradigm relatedness as our primary lens to explore how students’ ideaswere influenced by different problem framings. Paradigm relatedness was defined as the extentto which an idea preserves the focus, assumptions, elements, and relationships associated withthe problem definition. Based on these four facets of paradigm relatedness, ideas from the studywere coded into one of two general types of paradigm relatedness: paradigm preserving andparadigm modifying. Using the coded results, we analyzed the effect of problem framing on theparadigm relatedness of individual solutions. We identified students whose ideas shifted betweenparadigm modifying and paradigm preserving when framing changed, as well as students whoseideas remained consistent within one type of paradigm relatedness despite framing changes. Weanalyzed cases of students of each type, using their generated idea sets and reflection surveys todescribe the influence of the framed design problem statements on their ideation approaches.

Wright, S. M., & Silk, E. M., & Daly, S. R., & Jablokow, K. W., & McKIlligan, S. (2015, June), Exploring the Effects of Problem Framing on Solution Shifts: A Case Study Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24071

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