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Industrial Design

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Accepted Manuscript

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Journal of Mechanical Design




Jansson and Smith [1] demonstrated that design fixation occurs when an example solution is provided along with a design problem. As a result of seeing an example concept -- even with its flaws pointed out -- new designs often share its features. In Jansson and Smith’s studies, a control group saw no example and showed less fixation to the example provided in the other group. However, another source of fixation from an initial example may arise in the control group from the designer’s own first-generated concept. We conducted a large-scale experiment with beginning engineers to investigate whether design fixation occurs even without seeing a provided example. Half of the participants saw an example solution and half were given no example; instead, they generated their own initial design. Next, all students individually brainstormed ideas for 30 minutes. We analyzed both groups’ concepts for fixation on the first solution they saw – either the example provided or their own initial concept. The results showed that the students provided with an example concept experienced less fixation on the initial example than those in the control group, whose concepts were evaluated for similarity to their own initial concept. To consider whether fixation on initial examples (provided or self-generated) might be mitigated, we asked these students to complete a second (30 min) idea generation phase using Design Heuristics for idea inspiration. The results showed that both groups experienced less fixation during the second generation phase. These findings suggest fixation on first solutions occurs in individual idea generation arising from both provided examples and self-generated concepts. However, more divergent idea generation can be facilitated through the use of design tools, such as Design Heuristics, to mitigate the consequences of design fixation.


This accepted article is published as Leah, K., Daly, S.R., McKilligan, S., Seifert, C.M., Design Fixation from Initial Examples: Provided versus Self-Generated Ideas. Journal of Mechanical Design, 2020; doi: 10.1115/1.4046446. Posted with permission.

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