Creativity in conceptual design

The DELab aims to systematically identify and incorporate research results from psychology that improve creative productivity in engineering conceptual design.

Obstacles to creativity include design fixation (being overly influenced by existing concepts) and functional fixedness (not being able to come up with new uses for objects). Ongoing work aims to develop and validate interventions to address these and other obstacles in conceptual design.

Recent questions we have sought to answer include:

Can improved access to our own memory increase design creativity? (link)

Are the creative benefits of neurostimulation possible through behavioral interventions? (link)

Does visual fixation affect idea fixation? (link)

Can interventions to overcome depression be applied to overcome design fixation? (link)

Can individual (designer) tendency for design fixation and functional fixedness be predicted?

What is one strategy used by IKEA hackers to overcome functional fixedness?

Environmentally Conscious Behavior by Design

We’re also working to incorporate psychological concepts to increase environmentally conscious (or pro-environmental) behavior in individual consumers.¬† While technological improvements may increase efficiency to reduce resource consumption, such efficiency is not fully exploited if consumers behave in wasteful ways.

Recent questions we have sought to answer include:

Can a cup of coffee persuade you to drive more efficiently? (link to post)

Can information be framed to better reduce vehicle idling?

Can sustainability strategies be transferred from  old-order Mennonites to modern-day society?


We became interested in the concept of affordances due to its relevance to environmentally conscious behaviors. We have worked to identify novel affordances, through the use of lead users (e.g., DIYers), natural language search of online customer reviews, and a method we call “The affordance of absence”.

Recent questions we have sought to answer include:

How can design incorporate affordances to improve sustainable and other desirable behaviors?

Biomimetic Design (past research)

Biomimetic (or biologically inspired) design applies biological analogies to solve engineering problems. Biological phenomena provide an abundant source of inspiration for design, including novel models for process optimization and ideas for sustainable production practices. In the past, biologically inspired design has mostly relied on personal or chance knowledge and observation of biology to inspire design. As many engineers may not know the most relevant biological phenomena for any given design problem, a systematic method of accessing biological knowledge is required. Our approach has been to search the vast amount of biological knowledge already in natural-language format.