Campus Units

Industrial Design

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Version

Published Version

Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

2014 ASEE Annual Conference

Conference Title

2014 ASEE Annual Conference

Conference Date

June 15-18, 2014




Using Adaption-Innovation Theory to Build a Framework for Constructing Design Problem StatementsDesign problems are central to the work of practicing engineers and thus the education ofengineering students. As engineering instructors work to improve student design skills, oneoverlooked aspect could be in the way they frame and present design problems in their courses.Word choices, decisions about relevant information to include, and stated goals within thesedesign problem statements are likely to impact students’ approaches to generating solutions, aswell as the design solutions themselves.In our work, we developed a framework to assist in the development and framing of designproblem statements to encourage specific sorts of ideation behaviors. We developed the basis forthis framework by connecting literature on the structure of design problems, idea generation, taskframing, and cognitive styles. We utilized Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation (A-I) theory tounderstand the range of cognitive styles, and to create different design problem framings basedon this theory. A-I theory describes the different ways people respond to and manage structure,including the conceptual structures involved in idea generation. More adaptive individuals prefermore structure, with more of that structure consensually agreed, while more innovativeindividuals prefer less structure and are less concerned about consensus.Our review of the research suggested particular modifications in the framing of design problemstatements that would be likely to impact individuals’ natural approaches to ideation. Thosemodifications focused on varying the constraints and criteria specified in the problem. Designproblems that encourage adaptive ideation behaviors include highly specified constraints, alongwith criteria to encourage solutions that build on already existing solutions to the same or similarproblems. In contrast, design problems that encourage innovative ideation behaviors includecriteria to encourage solutions that are radically different from existing solutions and are notbound by particular constraints. We illustrate these variations by presenting a set of five designproblems, with three different versions of each problem statement, guided by the developedframework: (1) a neutrally framed version; (2) a more adaptively framed version; and (3) a moreinnovatively framed version. Additionally, we present three cases of student generated solutions,one case for each version of one of the design problems.We propose this framework as a guide for the development of design problem statements in theworkplace, instruction, and research settings. The framework can assist practicing engineers andengineering instructors to be more explicit about their own goals for the sorts of design solutionsthey aim to obtain.


This is a conference proceedings from 2014 ASEE Annual Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana, June 15-18, 2014. Posted with permission.


© 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference.

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American Society for Engineering Education



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