Design cognition for conceptual design

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Aalto-yliopiston teknillinen korkeakoulu | Doctoral thesis (article-based)
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TKK dissertations, 207
Creative competences are the major currency in 21st century product development domain. Consequentially, the number of new methodologies and working styles targeted for the fuzzy front-end constantly increases. In response, those responsible for managing the early phases of product design need to repeatedly question methods, the organization of work, and the constitution of a design team. In this dissertation I argue that the development of design practices can benefit from a science of design that can provide robust evidence about successful and purposeful ways of working. I particularly endorse a psychological science of design which concerns mental constructs that underlie design work regardless of the utilized tools and methods. This dissertation is motivated by an urge to understand the generation of ideas in conceptual design. By idea generation, I refer to the rapid production of seeds for future products or services, not necessarily very clever or unique yet. The goal is to develop a psychologically plausible view on how this kind of idea generation unfolds and particularly how human memory processes underlie this activity. This kind of cognitive, descriptive account is considered necessary to highlight the reality of design work in contrast to the prevalent prescriptive models of design. This thesis reviews the existing literature on design idea generation and general theories of idea generation. Based on several empirical studies and cycles of theoretical development, I develop a heuristic model of conceptual design; an example of design cognition for conceptual design. The model is utilized as an explanatory framework to argue why certain phenomena (e.g. incubation, inspiration, and fixation) arise and influence design idea generation as they do. The model emphasizes memory search, recognition, and analogical transfer as essential cognitive processes in idea generation. As a critical reflection of the work, I come to acknowledge the need to expand the cognitive theory beyond its present scope. I see that the design cognition needs to give up the problem solving perspective and consider new discourses to keep up with the accounts based on social constructivism. In future, I believe that establishing a science of design should help both educators and practitioners to advance their skills and help developing more effective and designer-centered practices.
Supervising professor
Ekman, Kalevi, Prof.
Thesis advisor
Ekman, Kalevi, Prof.
design cognition, conceptual design, idea generation, creativity, cognitive modeling
Other note
  • [Publication 1]: Liikkanen, L. A. & Perttula, M. (2009). Exploring problem decomposition among novice designers. Design Studies, 30(1), 38-59.
  • [Publication 2]: Liikkanen, L. A. & Perttula, M. (in press). Inspiring design idea generation: Insights from a memory-search perspective. Journal of Engineering Design.
  • [Publication 3]: Liikkanen, L. A. & Perttula, M. (2006). Contextual cueing and verbal stimuli in design idea generation. In J. S. Gero (Ed.), Design Computing and Cognition '06 (pp. 619-631). Eindhoven, Netherlands: Springer Verlag.
  • [Publication 4]: Liikkanen, L. A., Björklund T., Koskinen M. & Hämäläinen M. (2009). Time Constraints in Design Idea Generation. In the proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED 2009, Palo Alto, CA.
  • [Publication 5]: Liikkanen, L. A., Perttula, M. & Sipilä, P. (2008). Design Students' Preferences and Conceptions of Idea Generation in Groups. In the proceedings of the NordDesign 2008, Tallinn, Estonia.
  • [Publication 6]: Perttula, M. & Liikkanen, L. A. (2006). Structural tendencies and exposure effects in design idea generation. In the proceedings of ASME 2006 International Design Engineering Technical Conference, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
  • [Publication 7]: Perttula, M. & Liikkanen, L. A. (2005). Cue-based memory probing in design idea generation. In the proceedings of the Sixth International Roundtable Conference on Computational and Cognitive Models of Creative Design, Queensland, Australia.