Knowledge-Based Design Innovation: A Method to Generate New Knowledge in Design


TAN Hao, PhD. Candidate

School of Design, Hunan University, Changsha, China.



Prof. ZHAO Jianghong

School of Design, Hunan University, Changsha, China.

e-mail: zhaoma@




As the study of the china national “tenth five-year” science and technology project, the paper focuses on the knowledge-based design innovation. Firstly, this paper discusses the concept of “knowledge” and “knowledge in design”. Secondly, an experimental research of the knowledge of NC machine tools industrial design and the process is discussed in the paper. The measurements of questionnaire, task analysis and verbal protocol were used in the experiments. On the basis of the experiment, the paper analyzes how new design knowledge is generated in the process of design and how to express in products. Finally, the paper discusses the ways of application of knowledge-based design innovation in CAID system---a Knowledge-based NC (Numeric Control) Machine Tools CAID System.


Key Words: Knowledge, Design Knowledge, Knowledge Innovation

1. Knowledge and Design

Since the end of 20th century, human society has entered the “knowledge society” based on knowledge evaluated from the “industrial society” based on technology. The change of style of industrial design seems have reached its end, and there are many new great changes in the object, means and notion in industrial design.

Design is a kind of business in which skills and expertise are acquired after learning basic techniques, assimilating domain specific and general knowledge, and absorbing past good cases. The acquired expertise, however, is often tacit and implicit. Even experienced designers cannot be clear what kind of expertise they use in designing and how. [1] This is one of the problems in design researches.

In order to solve the problem, Gero, Kavakli, Teeravarunyou, Sato have introduced the concept of information and knowledge into design research and made some progress. [2-4] Knowledge is a type of integrative and meaning-independent information which can be learned, applied and be fed back and be used to forecast things. [5] The essential characteristic of knowledge is that knowledge can be put into practice. Knowledge plays a key role in conceptual design, such as aesthetic knowledge, functional knowledge, user knowledge, sponsor knowledge, etc. [6] In some case, conceptual design is one stage of knowledge innovation process that designers create new knowledge by their aesthetic knowledge, functional knowledge, user knowledge etc. to products. [7] Design process becomes a process of knowledge innovation.

2. An Experiment

In order to gain a detailed view of the knowledge transformation, a protocol analysis experiment is put forward. [8] The aim of the experimental research of industrial design of NC machine tools is to gain the design knowledge innovation ways of designers in NC machine tools design. The measurements of questionnaire, task analysis and verbal protocol were used in the experiments.

The experiments mainly included two aspects: the primitive investigation, and the experiment of task analysis. The primitive investigation explored some quality knowledge of NC machine tools design. The experiment of task analysis asked 5 designers design a kind of NC machine tools and hand in an design digital expression drawing. (Fig.1, Fig.2) The design process of design of designers are observed and noted. And the drawing and the reference materials of designers are also analyses in the experiment.


From the analysis of the experiment, new design knowledge was created in the design process and designers gained some new design knowledge. For example, by analysis the sketch of designers, some new idea, form, arrangement are created in the process of design; and there are two main ways to create new knowledge: copy and adapt. (Fig.3)

Fig.3 Some sketches of designers


3. Knowledge Innovation Process

Design is an innovative process and innovation means to create or generate new knowledge. From the perspective of knowledge innovation, design process can be divided into four main phases: receive, reference, evaluate and decide; and knowledge plays a key role in the process. (Fig.4)


Fig.4 Knowledge innovation design process


Design comes from problem, and the process of problem-solving means to create new knowledge. When designers begin to design, they begin to create knowledge. Creating new knowledge needs receive or retrieve old knowledge which is in designers’ minds. For example, many designers read a great deal of products photos and gain some useful knowledge before new design. And in the whole process of design, designers make full use of their design knowledge and apply knowledge into products. When design finished, old deign knowledge and new design knowledge are presented in design object or product. And new design knowledge come into designers’ knowledge and will apply in another new design process.

As mentioned before, there are two ways from old knowledge to new knowledge: copy and adapt. To simple knowledge, designers can copy them into products. In the process, old knowledge transferred to the new knowledge. However, most of design cannot be directly transferred to the new knowledge but require an adaptation process. There are two main ways to adapt knowledge: (1) adapt old design solution and (2)adapt the past method that constructed the solution. For example, in the experiment, we found that many designers gained their idea from materials, revised them and applied them into new design. Another interesting phenomenon is found in the experiment: designers often use their conventional design method to design. From a psychology view, it’s a performance of analogy.

4. A Knowledge Based Innovation System

In order to help designers’ work, we built a knowledge-based innovation design system---ICAID. In the system, suitable knowledge such as lots of design cases, color knowledge, ergonomics knowledge etc. is applied to help designers. (Fig.5, Fig.6)

Fig.5 Design Case Knowledge ICAID


Fig.6 Ergonomics Knowledge ICAID


For example, in Fig.5, There are some introduction of design concept and the method of form design. It is proved that these introductions are useful to designers especially in the stage of idea generation. [9]

5. Conclusion

Summarizing the paper, we can say that knowledge is an effective way to study design. Design innovation can be seen as knowledge innovation. There are two main ways to create new knowledge: copy and adapt. And knowledge innovation research can be used in some CAD system aid designers.


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[2] Manolya Kavakli, John S. Gero: The structure of concurrent cognitive actions: a case study on novice and expert designers. The Great Brain: Design Studies(23), 2002

[3] John S. Gero: An approach to the analysis of design protocols. The Great Brain: Design Studies(19), 1998

[4] S TeeravarunyouK Sato. Object-Mediated User Knowledge Elicitation Method. In: proceeding of the 5th Asian International Design Research Conference. Korea2001

[5] DevlinKeith. Infosense: Turning Information into Knowledge. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1999

[6] Jose Carlos Teixeira. Applying Design Knowledge to Create Innovative Business Opportunities. Ph.D. Essays in Illinois Institute of Technology, 1999

[7] H TanJ Zhao. Knowledge Transformation in Conceptual Design: An Approach to Build a Structure of CAID Knowledge System. In: proceeding of De Identity Conference. Italy2003

[8] Charles L. Owen. Design research: building the knowledge base. The Great Brain: Design Studies (19), 1998

[9] H Tan. Research on CAID System of NC Machine Tools Based on Knowledge. Master’s Thesis of Hunan University, 2003