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Transitions: From Conceptual Ideas To Detail Design

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Understanding Engineering Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1358.1 - 10.1358.10



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Paper Authors

author page

Durward Sobek

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

Transitions: From Conceptual Ideas to Detail Design

Durward K. Sobek, II Montana State University


In previous meetings, we presented preliminary work on coding student design journals as part of an effort to better understand how design processes affect design outcomes. We have also conducted a number modeling efforts on a dozen student mechanical engineering projects that correlate key process variables to design quality, client satisfaction, and designer productivity measures. One of the main patterns across the different analyses is that system-level design, which falls between concept design and detail design, consistently appears as a strongly significant variable distinguishing strong performing projects from weaker performing projects. In this paper, I briefly summarize the results of three analyses on the coded journal data. I then explore what “system level design” is, illustrated with a case example, and how it serves to bridge the gap between concept and detail design. These results have important implications for engineering problem-solving in general (not just design), which are also discussed.

1. Introduction

…over the years I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the belief that more ideas alone mean better results. If you’re serious about encouraging creativity in yourself or others and if you want to deal with change effectively, then implementing ideas is at least as important as generating ideas…. Creativity requires that ideas be implemented, and it is in the pragmatic details of implementation that creativity often fails, relegating the ideas to occasional 1 hindsight discussions at cocktail parties.

Creativity is certainly a very important part of innovating clever solutions to problems encountered as part of the human endeavor, what we call engineering design. However, as James Adams1 points out in the introduction to his book on creative problem-solving, good ideas are not very useful if never implemented.

All authors of engineering design texts implicitly recognize this same notion when they propose design process models. These models intend to provide the designer with guidance in how to proceed from recognition of a need to preliminary, abstract ideas on how that need could be met, and on to detailed, concrete solutions. Many authors recognize that design proceeds roughly (though not strictly) in stages or phases. And while no two design process models are exactly alike, they all seem to explicitly include a problem definition/information gathering/need recognition phase, a concept design phase, and a detail design phase. Most also include a transition phase of some kind between concept and detail design. For example, Ulrich and

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Sobek, D. (2005, June), Transitions: From Conceptual Ideas To Detail Design Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14967

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