ASSESSING QUALITY OF IDEAS IN CONCEPTUAL MECHANICAL DESIGN
A recurring theme in engineering design is the need to upgrade the performance of existing systems and products as potential defects overlooked in the original design come to light during operation and maintenance. This paper is concerned with the evaluation of skills exercised by designers when trying to solve “improvement” problems with attention focussed on their creative effort during the conceptual design phase. An investigation has been carried out in which an “improvement” problem selected from industrial practice was presented individually to thirty senior mechanical engineering students. Systematic analysis of their responses required the development of new research tools, firstly for assessing the quality of the design concepts proposed, and secondly for modelling the processes of ideation and argument used by each designer. Results are presented in terms of metrics for fluency of ideation, quality of concept, and branching preference, a new characteristic of designer performance found in this investigation. Further research is being undertaken to confirm the utility of the new research tools and the validity of the results obtained from their use.