The Influence of Representation on System Interpretation: A Search for Most Common Set Partitions

DS 122: Proceedings of the Design Society: 24th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED23)

Year: 2023
Editor: Kevin Otto, Boris Eisenbart, Claudia Eckert, Benoit Eynard, Dieter Krause, Josef Oehmen, Nad
Author: Murphy, Alexander R. (1); Patel, Apurva R. (1); Zorn, Stefan (2); Gericke, Kilian (2); Summers, Joshua D. (1)
Series: ICED
Institution: 1: University of Texas at Dallas; 2: University of Rostock
Section: Design Methods
Page(s): 3423-3432
DOI number:


During engineering design, different representations are used to convey information about a systems' components, functionality, spatial layout, and interdependencies. These varying representations may have an impact on the interpretation of a system and consequently the decision-making process. This paper presents a research study that tries to capture these different interpretations by investigating how designers divide a system into subsystem clusters. These subsystem clusters can be considered partitions of a set-in combinatorial mathematics. Given designers' subsystem clusters for three products across three representation modalities, three different analysis methods for finding the most likely partition from observed data are presented. Analysis shows that the Variation of Information analysis method gives the most coherent and consistent results for the search of a most likely cluster. In addition, differences in clustering behaviour are observed based on representation modality. These results show that the way an engineer or designer chooses to represent a system impacts how that system is interpreted, which has implications for the decision-making process during engineering design.

Keywords: Design theory, Design cognition, Design representation, Systems thinking, Human behaviour in design

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