Design problem formulation is believed to influence creativity, yet it has received only modest attention in the research community. Past studies of problem formulation are scarce and often have small sample sizes. The main objective of this research is to understand how problem formulation affects creative outcome. Three research areas are investigated: development of a model which facilitates capturing the differences among designers' problem formulation; representation and implication of those differences; the relation between problem formulation and creativity.
This dissertation proposes the Problem Map (P-maps) ontological framework. P-maps represent designers' problem formulation in terms of six groups of entities (requirement, use scenario, function, artifact, behavior, and issue). Entities have hierarchies within each group and links among groups. Variables extracted from P-maps characterize problem formulation.
Three experiments were conducted. The first experiment was to study the similarities and differences between novice and expert designers. Results show that experts use more abstraction than novices do and novices are more likely to add entities in a specific order. Experts also discover more issues.
The second experiment was to see how problem formulation relates to creativity. Ideation metrics were used to characterize creative outcome. Results include but are not limited to a positive correlation between adding more issues in an unorganized way with quantity and variety, more use scenarios and functions with novelty, more behaviors and conflicts identified with quality, and depth-first exploration with all ideation metrics. Fewer hierarchies in use scenarios lower novelty and fewer links to requirements and issues lower quality of ideas.
The third experiment was to see if problem formulation can predict creative outcome. Models based on one problem were used to predict the creativity of another. Predicted scores were compared to assessments of independent judges. Quality and novelty are predicted more accurately than variety, and quantity. Backward elimination improves model fit, though reduces prediction accuracy.
P-maps provide a theoretical framework for formalizing, tracing, and quantifying conceptual design strategies. Other potential applications are developing a test of problem formulation skill, tracking students' learning of formulation skills in a course, and reproducing other researchers’ observations about designer thinking.