Creativity in Engineering Design: Understanding the Factors The Influence Creative Idea Development

Open Access
Toh, Christine
Graduate Program:
Industrial Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
Committee Members:
  • Scarlett Rae Miller, Thesis Advisor
  • creativity
  • product interactions
  • example modality
  • visual representation
  • concept selection
  • risk aversion
  • ambiguity aversion
While creativity is recognized as an essential component of the design process, much is still unknown about the factors that lead to the generation and flow of creative ideas through the design process. This is important because creative ideas are often filtered out during this process due to people’s inadvertent bias against creativity, decreasing the likelihood of innovation that is crucial for long-term economic success. Therefore, research is needed that examines how variations in commonly utilized design activities affect creative idea generation and how factors such as an individual’s risk attitudes, the structure of the problem, and representations of concept creativity affect the flow of creative ideas during the concept selection stage of the design process. In this thesis, the results of three experimental studies with 136 engineering students are reported. The results of this thesis show that participants who interact with physical examples generate ideas with less novelty and focus less on the functional aspects of design compared to participants who interact with pictorial examples. The first study was developed to understand the impacts of different types of designer- product interactions that are commonly practiced in engineering. This study showed that participants who interact with examples in a more meaningful way (through product dissection) also produce ideas with more variety than those who merely visually inspect them. The second and third studies of this thesis were geared at investigating the factors that impact creative idea selection during concept selection in engineering design. These studies show that participants who are more prone to risk-taking are found to select more creative ideas during concept selection. On the other hand, participants who are more tolerant of ambiguity tend to generate ideas with more novelty than participants who are less tolerant of ambiguity. Lastly, the results show that the structure of the problem and the representation of creativity presented to participants can also influence the selection of creative ideas during the design process. Overall, the results of this thesis add to our understanding of the factors that contribute to the flow of creative ideas from concept generation to concept development. They also provide empirical evidence for the link between risk-taking attitudes and perceptions of creativity in engineering design. Finally, the results of this thesis are used to develop guidelines and recommendations for encouraging the generation and selection of creative ideas in engineering design that help enhance the flow of creative ideas throughout the design process.