Considering a wide range of ideas is critical for engineers as they seek to improve existing solutions and solve new problems. One dimension on which to broaden the range of ideas considered is paradigm-relatedness, which is defined by a spectrum from incremental to radical. An incremental idea is one that refines and improves on existing solutions, leading to evolutionary changes. A radical idea is one where the problem is viewed from a new perspective, or seemingly unrelated ideas are connected within the problem context, potentially leading to revolutionary changes. Both types of ideas are important to be able to generate and consider. We developed a theoretically- and empirically-grounded tool to help engineers generate ideas that span the paradigm-relatedness spectrum. The tool provides framing statements that are added onto an original design task description, pushing the designer to shift toward generating ideas that differ from those they generated initially. In this study, we explored the extent to which the framing tool impacted the paradigm-relatedness of ideas that high school student designers developed during an experimental design session.
Eighty-six prospective engineering students at a large Midwestern university participated in the study. First, participants received a neutral description of a design task and were given 20 minutes to generate 5 ideas. Second, participants listened to a presentation on the difference between ideas across the paradigm-relatedness spectrum, and then self-assessed their ideas on a 4-level scale ranging from incremental to radical. Third, they were given a framing tool designed to push them in the opposite direction of their initial ideas based on their self-assessment. An additional 20 minutes were spent generating 5 more ideas while using the framing tool. Finally, participants self-assessed the ideas generated with the framing tool. Reflection surveys were given at the end of each ideation session to gain insight into how participants perceived the quality of their design solutions.
This initial analysis focused on a subsample of 23 participants. To analyze the participants’ ideas more objectively, two researchers independently coded the ideas on a 4-level coding metric ranging from incremental to radical. All disagreements were resolved through a consensus discussion. To generate a shift score for each participant, we took the average level of their ideas generated with the tool and subtracted it from the average level of their ideas generated without the tool. A positive difference indicated a more radical shift and a negative difference indicated a more incremental shift. We found that 78% of the students shifted their ideas in the direction the problem framing tool prompted (more incremental or more radical), providing evidence of the framing tool’s effectiveness. In our paper, we detail the design of the tool, present summative data across the participants, and examine cases that illustrate the tool’s impact. We also discuss possible improvements to the tool and its potential use for engineering students and practitioners.
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