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Product Design Research


As part of a Masters degree at MIT, I conducted an 18-month study of the product design process using ethnographic research techniques (e.g., field observations, participant interviews). The subject of the research was a Boston-based product design firm, hired by an international pharma company to create a new medical product.


We were interested in documenting and better understanding the engineering design process from a social perspective - particularly interactions between diferent technical specialties on the design team and how formal design methods (so called 'structured methods' such as Gant Charts, User Requirements Documents etc.) are used in practice. 


We found significant deviation between the formal design process (as prescribed by instructional/ educational literature) and how products get designed in actuality. While formal methods played a vital role in translating key design steps across technical diciplines, it was the social interactions between the team members that were pivotal to all of the major design breakthroughs. 


In many ways, the findings from the research were a prelude to what I'd experience many years later working with start-ups - you can't beat small, motivated and tightly integrated teams working towards a shared goal. 


The research was conducted as part of the Center for Innovation in Product Development (CIPD) at MIT. Established in 1996 as one of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Engineering Research Centers, CIPD was an interdepartmental research program joining MIT's School of Engineering with the Sloan School of Management.  A total of16 faculty, 20 graduate students and 10 industrial partners were involved in the initiave. 


The primary goal of CIPD was to improve the standard of practice around product development in US compaines. The center sponsored a diverse range of research initiatives (e.g., from next generation CAD/ CAM modelling tools to organizational incentive modelling)



Professor Larry Bucciarelli, MIT (Author of 'Designing Engineers')





Relevant material

Research Paper (Journal of Engineering Education)




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