Date of Award

Winter 1994

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Management

Committee Director

Frederick Steier

Committee Member

Laurence D. Richards

Committee Member

Billie M. Reed

Committee Member

Jay Taylor


The purpose of this study is to investigate the role of similarity and analogy in design communication and propose a descriptive representation of the analogical decision-making process in the context of engineering design. It is proposed that social, cultural, and contextual knowledge are brought to bear on statements of need in the form of analogy as a means to elicit and evince potential design solutions. A goal of this study is to identify communicative behaviors, representing process variables of analogical decision-making, that can be used to describe how design information is represented, manipulated, and conveyed in a collaborative design effort.

An observational and interactional analysis methodology is used to qualitatively examine communication and analogical decision making processes in collaborative design. Specifically, the methodology systematically identifies and describes communicative behaviors that occur in analogic discourse. All in-depth examination of verbal and nonverbal behaviors, observed in the design activities of a group of experienced engineers, is performed to identify communicative behaviors that elicit or act on design information. A qualitative assessment of these behaviors in design discourse is made to support the development of a descriptive representation of analogical decision making. These behaviors are then applied as a coding scheme to recorded conversational data and are analyzed using the lag sequential analysis method to identify reoccurring patterns of communication and interaction in analogical decision making.

Qualitative assessments from this study indicate that a plethora of design knowledge and worldly experiences were used to satisfy explicitly stated or perceived needs. It was observed that technical and engineering knowledge, general knowledge gained through personal experiences, and fantastical projections are elements of analogic discourse. It was observed that communicative behaviors associated with analogical decision making facilitated the transformation of design information into new design requirements, heuristics, or design solutions. These behaviors included: requirement queries; and statements of comparison, proposition, confirmation, control, and held/acquired knowledge. Results from this study indicate that if these communicative behaviors are defined as acts that transform design information from one state to another, they can be analyzed stochastically to reveal patterns of communication and interaction. Cyclic dependencies among communicative behaviors, determined by the lag sequential analysis method, suggest that reoccurring patterns of communication exist in analogy discourse. These communication patterns suggest that analogical decision making can be viewed as a communication system.

It is concluded that the process of analogical decision making involves: the establishment of a context in which analogy discourse occurs; the selection, tailoring, and confirmation of potential solution sets which are articulated as analogues and analogue attributes; and the derivation of either design requirements, heuristics, or physical descriptions and representations.