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Wordtrees: A Method For Design By Analogy

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Design Communications

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1407.1 - 13.1407.14



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Paper Authors


Julie Linsey Texas A&M University

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JULIE LINSEY is an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Texas A&M University. Her research focus is on design methods, theory and engineering education with a particular focus on innovation and conceptual design.

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Kristin Wood University of Texas at Austin

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KRISTIN WOOD is the Cullen Trust Endowed Professor in Engineering at The University of
Texas at Austin, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Wood’s current research interests
focus on product design, development, and evolution. The current and near-future objective of
this research is to develop design strategies, representations, and languages that will result in
more comprehensive design tools, innovative manufacturing techniques, and design teaching aids
at the college, pre-college, and industrial levels. Contact:

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Arthur Markman University of Texas- Austin

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Arthur Markman is Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. His research examines analogical reasoning, categorization, motivation, and the influence of these processes on innovation and creativity. He has published over 100 scholarly works including 7 books. He is a past executive officer of the Cognitive Science Society, and is currently the executive editor of the journal Cognitive Science.

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

WordTrees: A Method for Design-by-Analogy Keywords: analogy, design, idea generation

Abstract Analogies to nature and other designs are recognized for its power in seeking innovative solutions. Currently available design methods provide little guidance for systematically identifying potential analogous solutions for a design problem. The typical guidance is that analogies are useful for seeking solutions and to look for analogies to other products and nature. Unfortunately the guidance provided ends here. This paper describes a new method for designing with analogies, called the WordTree Method. The WordTree Method provides designers with a systematic approach for re-representing their design problems and seeking potential analogies. This method is based on prior experimental results focused on understanding the cognitive processes involved during analogical reasoning and concept generation. The paper describes the method in detail and then presents results showing its effectiveness. The WordTree Method begins with the functions and customer needs of the problem. It then prescribes an approach to re-represent these functions and customer needs so that alternative retrieval cues can be developed. These retrieval cues are effective for both encouraging the engineers to retrieve other solutions from their memory and from databases. Alterative representations are developed both intuitively and through the use of databases readily available on the web. The alternative linguistic representations are then organized into WordTrees facilitating the identification of potential analogies and analogous domains. Analogies, along with analogous domains, are then researched. Concept generation can then be based on the new representations and analogies. A case study illustrates and evaluates the method. This method is appropriate for both professional and student engineers. The WordTree Method fills a gap in design class providing a tool for design-by-analogy.

1. Introduction Engineering innovation is a highly sought after skill and needs to be taught to the next generation of engineers. Numerous idea generation techniques are available to assist the engineer in this process. Over one hundred formal idea generation techniques have been developed in areas such as psychology, business and engineering1-3. Techniques range from the well-known Brainstorming method developed by Osborn (1957)4, to engineering specific methods, such as the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TIPS)5. Unfortunately, little empirical data exists to guide the use of these methods for engineering design. One identified approach for innovation is analogy. Numerous examples of innovation based on analogy can be found in current technical magazines. One recent example of a design for a space suit partially based on a giraffe’s legs is illustrated in Figure 1. The tight skins on a giraffe’s legs assist in regulating its blood pressure. An ultra lightweight and easily maneuverable space suit uses a similar approach by using mechanical pressure rather than air pressure to support human life on mars. Analogy is recognized for its effectiveness, but limited formal method guidance is provided. This paper presents a new design method, the WordTree Method, for designing with analogies. The following sections discuss the current approaches for design-by-analogy and then present a new method, the WordTree Method. A case study is used to illustrate the WordTree Method followed by conclusions and future work.

Linsey, J., & Wood, K., & Markman, A. (2008, June), Wordtrees: A Method For Design By Analogy Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3974

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