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Author: Mayer, Helmut
Supervisor: van Voorthuysen, Erik; Ford, Robin; Stark, Hugh
Institution: Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, The University of New South Wales
Many years of research in design science have produced a great body of knowledge about the intangible art of designing. For the designer of heavy industrial plant under commercial conditions, there remains a need to acknowledge the mountain of engineering decisions that have to be made in practice by industrial designers in a very limited time, each of which, if made incorrectly, has the potential for significant injury or economic cost, and that no design process of any significance can ever be expected to be executed free of errors. In turn, that means there is a need to better understand the errors that designers do make and what can be done in developing design processes, as well as in managing the work of designers, in order to mitigate as much as possible, the impact that the inevitable errors may have.
For the purpose of developing an understanding of the errors designers make, and for assessing potential design projects for their risks in relation to design errors, a system was developed to express the various mental environments in which engineering designers generally conduct their work. This system is labeled the characteristic decision map and it is used i)to express the decision environment characteristics of a proposed design project and ii)to express what the risks are that are associated with errors likely to be made in each of the defined decision environments.
In order to improve an understanding of the risks in each decision environment, a complex and real design project, conducted under commercial conditions, as observed for a period of two and a half years in order to collect information about the errors and the impact that they had.
The hypothesis that errors can be identified and categorized in a manner suitable for this expression of risk on the characteristic decision map was confirmed and a variety of insights could be gleaned about the behaviour of errors across the decision map. Despite the size of the design project under observation, the full range of fields in the expression of risk on the decision map could not be fully populated. Nevertheless, opportunities exist to continue to refine the data.