Simon Shurville


The central issue to be addressed in this thesis is the provision of support for design tasks that require problem formation and evaluation and some inventive adaptation of products and design strategies. Hitherto, computer tools have failed to support the full range of design tasks. In particular, they have been focused upon solving previously formulated design tasks in well-defined domains where little inventiveness with materials or design strategies is required (Green, 1992a). A solution is offered in the form of an analysis that yields a new class of system, called Method Oriented Design Environments (MODEs), which provide support for some of these more complicated design tasks. An implementation of such a system is presented in the fom1 of Patina: a MODE to support parametric analysis. It is argued that the lack of support for design tasks involving problem formulation, evaluation and inventiveness with components and strategies has partly been due to usage of an overly narrow view of the design process as a basis for system development on the part of developers of knowledge aided design. To provide a more complete orientation for these developers, and 'to expand the theory of knowledge aided design, an alternative model of design tasks is developed in the form of a 'design activity space' by transferring knowledge from the field of design research to that of knowledge aided design. A mapping is constructed between this new design activity space and Green's model space of tools for knowledge aided design (Green, 1992a). The mapping is first used to analyse the range of utility of some recent alternatives to traditional knowledge based systems for design. It is then used to single out a 'niche' of design tasks that are not supported by traditional systems or their more recent alternatives. The design tasks which lie in this niche awaiting support from computer tools share the following characteristics: ( 1) they encompass the activities of analysis, synthesis and evaluation, (2) they require an intermediate degree of innovation with the product, and (3) they require an intermediate degree of innovation in design strategy. The class of tools that are proposed to offer support to tasks in this niche are named MODEs because their defining characteristic is that the majority of their constituent knowledge is derived from a design method or strategy. Therefore the main item that is being represented to the user of a MODE is such a structured method rather than an evolving artefact. This is radically different from the traditional knowledge based tools, where the item being represented is an artefact in a particular domain, and from a recent proposal for systems that depict an unstructured process (Blessing, 1994). To demonstrate the feasibility of implementing a MODE, the implementation of a system called Patina, to support designers in applying the technique of parametric analysis, is reported.

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