Studies of information use by engineering designers and the development of strategies to aid in its classification and retrieval
This thesis presents an approach for supporting the information access requirements
of engineering designers. Technical and cultural factors are increasing the quantity of
information that is available to designers. As a consequence, they require improved
tools not just to retrieve this information but also to allow it to be organised and
classified into meaningful structures to assist in its management.
The research has been undertaken from two interrelated standpoints. The first focused
on empirical studies of the information access requirements of practising designers.
The second concerned the development, based on the key findings from the initial
studies, of classification structures for aerospace design information and their
incorporation in a computer-based information system.
The empirical studies of designers were carried out in two separate stages. The first
involved the characterisation of the information usage of a range of engineering
designers with different backgrounds. The results indicated important differences in
the usage and storage of information between designers. The second study examined
documents used by practising designers. From this, a number of core classification
scheme types were identified that allow information to be organised from a variety of
The results of the empirical studies informed the development of a novel information
system based on a combination of. (i) faceted-like, automatic, non-mutually exclusive
classification principles and (ii) a hybrid browsing approach that `prunes' the
browsable classification scheme, according to concept selections made by the user.
The system overcomes some of the usual problems of browsing classification
structures and allows the inference of linked relationships between different
classification categories. This represents a powerful feature that is beyond the
capabilities of existing search approaches.
The benefits of the system, when applied to a number of typical engineering
information search scenarios, are discussed followed by an evaluation of the
approach. Finally, a number of conclusions and suggestions for future research are