I will describe two approaches my laboratory is taking to provide novel sources of ideas during conceptual design.
1) Biological analogies are often credited for inspiring innovative design concepts, but not often reported is how the source of biological inspiration was found. Such analogies could be identified by consulting biologists and databases that catalogue biological knowledge to support design. Instead, my laboratory has developed tools and methods that search through information in natural-language format, e.g., books, papers, etc., to find and apply biological analogies relevant to any given problem. I will describe the benefits and challenges specific to this approach.
2) An expanded definition of lead users is used to gain insights on developing products that support environmentally conscious behaviors.
While products have become more resource efficient, product use has also increased, offsetting gains enabled by technical efficiency. By studying lead users in resource conservation, including the Mennonites, we were able to identify principles that may enable more people to engage in pro-environmental behaviors. We are examining how these principles may be incorporated into products that encourage green behavior.