Characterising the Creative Behaviour of Designers within the Late-Stage Engineering Design Process

  • Christopher Snider

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Creativity is widely recognised as a vital element in modern-day engineering design. It is through creative behaviour that engineering designers produce creative solutions to their problems, and through creative solutions that many companies succeed. However, research into creative behaviour within engineering design has to date focused largely on the design process in general or on early-stage design; neglecting the often complex and constrained engineering practice that occurs during later design stages. It is to this research focus that the work presented here has been completed. Defined through its production of outputs that are original, of appropriate quality, and surprising, creative design behaviour is a culmination of several aspects within the engineering process; that of a person or team; working within a specific context; actively completing a process; that will produce an output for a particular design brief. At the centre of this situation is then the designer; it is through their individual behaviours that creative outputs are formed. Due to the nature of the later stage engineering design process, the accompanying influences under which designers work, and the types of activity that they complete, it presents a very different situation to early-stage design. It is therefore not possible to assume that understanding based on study of either early-stage design or the design process in general is entirely applicable to later-stage design processes or to the type of support that designers working within may need. Thus, when linked to creative behaviour, this presents an opportunity for research; there is possibility to gain valuable understanding of the manner in which creative solutions are produced through the study of designers’ creative behaviour in later-stage design. It is to this goal that this research has been performed, namely to characterise the creative behaviour of designers within the later-stages of the engineering design process. To this end, this thesis presents a detailed review of the field of creativity, the field of engineering design, and current understanding of designer behaviour. From the understanding that each of these provides, a framework and coding scheme are then developed, which are designed to identify creative behaviour within the individual tasks of designers throughout the design process. This coding scheme is then used within three studies; one based on seven less-experienced designers working within a 22-week project, one of eighteen designers of varying experience undertaking a design brief set by the author, and one of four designers working within industry. Through analysis of the data produced by these studies, this thesis contributes several characterisations of designer behaviour within later-stage design. These include typical task-types in which all designers are creative, two distinct creative approaches that correlate with a designers personal creative style, and types of tasks to complete in order encourage streamlining of the design process; in addition to more general characterisations concerning designer focus within early and late-stage design, and differences in behaviour between expert and less-experienced designers. Through the understanding that this research has gained and presents within this thesis there are many opportunities for further work on the subject of the improvement and support of designer behaviour. Both within an academic and industrial context, detailed and specific characterisation of creative behaviour in later-stage design has the potential to provide the means to improve both the process and output of engineering design.
Date of Award2 May 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorElies Dekoninck (Supervisor) & Stephen Culley (Supervisor)


  • Creativity
  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Behaviour

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