Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

Faculty Candidate Seminar


Enhancing Engineering Idea Generation: The Cognitive Impact of Physical Representations


Dr. Julie Linsey


Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas


Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 11:00:00 AM


MRDC Building, Room 4211


Dr. Bert Bras


Innovation and engineering creativity are highly sought after and not well-understood. Understanding design cognition can drive enhancements to the design process. Dr. Linsey’s Innovation, Design Reasoning, Engineering Education and Methods lab seeks to more deeply understand designer cognition and then to develop new engineering methods and tools to enhance engineering design. Physical prototypes and other models are common practice and serve a critical role in design, yet significant research questions exist on a physical model’s effects on cognition and the benefits they provide. A series of studies identifies the cognitive effects of physical representations and evaluate two main hypotheses: (1) do physical representations supplement designer’s mental models of physical phenomena and (2) do physical models induce design fixation. A combination of highly controlled lab experiments and qualitative observational studies explore the cognitive effects of physical representations. Results from the controlled experiments are triangulated with the observational studies. Results indicate physical models assist designers in overcoming flaws in their mental models thus leading to a higher quality design concept. Results from the series of studies also demonstrates that the apparent design fixation often observed with engineers and prototyping is likely due to the Sunk Cost Effect and not inherent to physical representations. The Sunk Cost Effect occurs whenever a significant cost (time, money or other resource) has gone into a particular course of action. The tendency is to continue with the current course of action even though logically it would be better to switch to a new course, thus apparent fixation. Design methods for industry and engineering education are in development based on this research. Implications for engineering design will also be discussed.


Dr. Julie S. Linsey is an assistant professor at Texas A&M University in the Mechanical Engineering Department. She earned a PhD and MS in mechanical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. She teaches the mechanical engineering undergraduate capstone design courses, freshman introduction to engineering and the mechanical engineering graduate course, Advanced Product Design. Her research focus is on systematic methods and tools for innovative design with a particular focus on concept generation and design-by-analogy. Her research seeks to understand designers’ cognitive processes with the goal of creating better tools and approaches to enhance innovation. She has co-authored over forty technical publications including four book chapters and she holds two patents.