Making the tacit explicit: Developing tools to support collaboration during industrial design and engineering design practice
Industrial designers employ an extensive range of media and techniques at various times during professional practice. Whilst general patterns of use are acknowledged, such as loose sketches at the beginning of product development and full prototypes at the end, the nuances of use for specific design representations remain elusive. Having identified problems in communication during product development, the researchers identified a lack of understanding in the use of design representations as a key issue. This paper reports on research to enhance communication during product development by making tacit knowledge on the use of design representations explicit. This was achieved through the development of two design tools called CoLab and iD Cards. Phase 1 of the project identified barriers to communication through semi-structured interviews with 61 industrial designers and engineering designers at 17 industrial design consultancies. Phase 2 explored the nature of design representations and categorized 35 types as sketches, drawings, models or prototypes using isemi-structured interviews with both industrial designers and engineering designers, with differences in use between the two groups becoming apparent. Phase 3 used a process of information design to translated the findings and data from Phase 2 into the card-based CoLab design tool that included the taxonomy and indication of when the design representations were used by industrial designers and engineering designers and for what types of information. Changes were made after appraisal and the final tool was validated through semi-structured interviews with 43 industrial design and engineering design practitioners and observation. Phase 4 disseminated the research output with the support of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) in the UK (CoLab web-based design tool) and Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) in the USA (iD Cards physical design tool). The paper concludes that the use of appropriate research methods that integrate literature based sources with practitioner engagement has the potential to elicit valuable and unexpected tacit knowledge. It also acknowledges that whilst the outcomes from such research can be enthusiastically received, translation into a format for effective dissemination can be a challenging and time-consuming process. However, with confidence in outcomes and a desire to disseminate, opportunities can be identified if researchers are prepared to be flexible and adapt to stakeholder needs.