The communication and recording of conceptual design information by the inclusion of visual data
This thesis reports the results of a three year, full-time research project investigating the generation and communication of product descriptions within the conceptual phase of the engineering design process. The research pays particular attention to the role played by the designer's sketch in communicating new product ideas. The investigation commences with a literature review of existing design process models (Chapter 2), which helps to define the area under investigation while presenting modern views of the process in relation to classic examples from established design research. Chapter 3 presents a literature review of the methods currently used to support communication of product descriptions. These methods of Specification are assessed and particular attention is given to new computer-based recording methods such as DOORS and Cradle. Suggestions for improving the efficiency of such models are put forward and the text-only bias of such systems is identified. This comparison of the existing systems thus identifies the research questions. Having identified the possible improvement to be gained by the incorporation of visual material in addition to the universal text description, Chapter 4 presents a literature review assessing the roles of the conceptual sketch in engineering design. As well as presenting views of drawing from philosophical, psychological and scientific standpoints, this section compares attempts made to support the engineer's sketching activity by computer means. This chapter concludes that efforts made to provide effective computer support of sketching by freehand methods are preferred to attempts made to replicate the process with current computer tools. The resulting research experiment, the methodology of which is described in Chapter 5, uses students from the final year of the Product Design Engineering course at Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow. The main aim of the experiment is to identify means of including sketching within the kind of text-based support methods discussed in Chapter 3. It also observes the volume and pattern of information produced by sketch activity throughout the conceptual stages of the design process and aims to find methods which would enable sketches to indicate the general progress of a design. The findings are detailed in Chapter 6.