Using clustering algorithms to identify subproblems in design processes

DS 87-2 Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 17) Vol 2: Design Processes, Design Organisation and Management, Vancouver, Canada, 21-25.08.2017

Year: 2017
Editor: Anja Maier, Stanko Škec, Harrison Kim, Michael Kokkolaras, Josef Oehmen, Georges Fadel, Filippo Salustri, Mike Van der Loos
Author: Morency, Michael; Anparasan, Azrah; Herrmann, Jeffrey; Gralla, Erica
Series: ICED
Institution: 1: University of Maryland, United States of America; 2: George Washington University, United States of America
Section: Design Processes, Design Organisation and Management
Page(s): 061-070
ISBN: 978-1-904670-90-2
ISSN: 2220-4342


Designers work in teams to design complex systems. They separate the design problem into subproblems and solve the smaller, more manageable subproblems. Because this affects the overall quality of their design, it is important to understand how teams decompose system design problems, which will ultimately enable future research on how to design better design processes. We studied teams of experts solving two different facility design problems. We developed a novel approach that combines qualitative and quantitative techniques. It records a team's discussion, identifies the design variables using qualitative coding techniques, and groups these variables into subproblems. A subproblem is a set of variables that are considered together. We evaluated four clustering algorithms that group the coded variables into subproblems. This paper discusses the data collection, the clustering algorithms, and the evaluation techniques. The the algorithms generated similar but not identical clusters, and no algorithm's clusters consistently out-performed the others on quantitative measures of cluster quality. The clusters do provide insights into the subproblems that the design team solved.

Keywords: Decision making, Design process, Human behaviour in design, Research methodologies and methods, Teamwork


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