Property Inference Decision-Making and Decision Switching of Undergraduate Engineers: Implications for Ideational Diversity & Fluency through Movements in a Cartesian Concept Design Space
Design fixation is a phenomenon experienced by professional designers and engineering design students that stifles creativity and innovation through discouraging ideational productivity, fluency and diversity. During the design idea and concept generation phase of the design process, a reliance on perceptual surface feature similarities between design artefacts increases the likelihood of design fixation leading to design duplication. Psychologists, educators and designers have become increasingly interested in creative idea generation processes that encourage innovation and entrepreneurial outcomes. However, there is a notable lack of collaborative research between psychology, education and engineering design particularly on inductive reasoning of undergraduate engineering students in higher education. The data gathered and analysed for this study provides an insight into property inference decision-making preferences and decision switching (SWITCH) patterns of engineering undergraduates under similarity-based inductive judgements [SIM] and category-based inductive judgements [CAT].
For this psychology experiment, property induction tasks were devised using abstract shapes in a triad configuration. Participants (N = 180), on an undergraduate engineering programme in London, observed a triad of shapes with a target shape more similar-looking to one of two given shapes. Factors manipulated for this experiment included category alignment, category group, property type and target shape. Despite the cognitive development and maturation stage of undergraduate engineers (adults) in higher education, this study identified similarity-based inductive judgements [SIM] to play a significant role during inductive reasoning relative to the strength of category-based inductive judgements [CAT]. In addition to revealing the property inference decision-making preferences of a sample of undergraduate engineers (N = 180), two types of switch classification and two types of non-switch classification (SWITCH) were found and named SIM_NCC, SIM-Salient, Reverse_CAT and CAT_Switching. These different classifications for property inference switching and non-switching presented a more complex pattern of decision-making driven by the relative strength between similarity-based inductive judgements [SIM] and category-based inductive judgements [CAT]. The conditions that encouraged CAT_Switching is of particular interest to design because it corresponds to inference decision switching that affirms the sharing of properties between dissimilar-looking shapes designated as category members, i.e., in a conflicting category alignment condition (CoC).
For CAT_Switching, this study found a significant interaction between a particular set of conditions that significantly increased the likelihood of property inference decisions switching to affirm the sharing of properties between dissimilar-looking shapes. Stimuli conditions that combined a conflicting category alignment condition (where dissimilar-looking shapes belong to the same category) with category specificity, a causal property and a target shape with merged (or blended) perceptual surface features significantly increased the likelihood of a property inference decision switching. CAT_Switching has important implications for greater ideational productivity, fluency and diversity to discourage design fixation within the conceptual design space. CAT_Switching conditions could encourage more creative design transformations with alternative design functions through inductive inferences that generalise between dissimilar artefact designs. The findings from this study led to proposing a Cartesian view of the concept design space to represent the possibilities for greater movements through flexible and expanding category boundaries to encourage conceptual combinations, greater ideational fluency and greater ideational diversity within a configuration design space. This study has also created a platform for further research into property inference decision-making, ideational diversity and category boundary flexibility under stimuli conditions that encourage designers and design students to make inductive generalisations between dissimilar domains of knowledge through a greater emphasis on causal relations and semantic networks.