J. Mech. Des. (2014); 136(9):091004-091004-8
Interacting with example products is an essential and widely practiced method in engineering design, yet little information exists on how the representation (pictorial or physical) or interaction a designer has with an example impacts design creativity. This paper reports the results of a controlled study with first year engineering design students developed to investigate the impact of a designer’s interaction with either a 2D pictorial image or a 3D product and the resulting functional focus and creativity of the ideas developed. The results of this study reveal that physical examples have the ability to reduce design novelty and variety. Based on our results, we recommend that designers delay the use of physical examples during the early stages of conceptual design in order to retain a higher level of design creativity. In other words, designers should perform an initial round of brainstorming using pictorial examples before interacting with physical examples of existing products in an effort to broaden the solution space explored. Second, our results show that product dissection encourages more form-based novelty but less functional focus compared to visual inspection. Since designers interact with physical examples frequently, it is crucial that we identify the underlying factors that influence physical interactions impact on design creativity. Finally, our results show that great care should be taken in selecting example designs in the early stages of conceptual design since these interactions can greatly impact design outcomes.