Research in Engineering and Aviation

Aspects of Nonlinearity in Conceptual Design

August 2009

Author(s): Kroll, E., & Condoor, S.

In Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED’09), Vol. 2, pp. 25-34.


Systematic Design methods present a sequential model of conceptual design, whereby function structures are established, solution principles sought, and then combined to form the product concept. We argue that in reality, design is seldom such a linear process, and that linear design process models may hinder creativity and innovation. Two main aspects of conceptual design are used to support this argument: high-level functional reasoning and emergence of new concepts during - not just at the outset - of the conceptual design stage. A simple model that captures the nonlinearity and is therefore more suitable for describing the thought process of conceptual design is the Parameter Analysis methodology. We review it briefly and apply it to a case study of designing small aerodynamic decelerators. Several innovative concepts generated by Parameter Analysis are shown to be an unlikely result of a Systematic Design process.