Research in Engineering Design

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 123–131 | Cite as

Cognition and complexity: An experiment on the effect of coupling in parameter design

  •  N. Hirschi
  •  D. Frey
Original Paper


This paper presents experimental results regarding human abilities to solve parameter design tasks. In particular, the investigations focus on how the solution of parameter design problems is affected by coupling among the design variables and the scale of the problem (number of design variables). An experiment was conducted with human subjects who solved parameter design tasks through a simple graphical user interface. It is established that, for parameter design tasks with only two inputs and two outputs, coupling had only a moderate effect on the subjects' solution of the problem. As the number of variables increases, the effect of coupling among variables has a drastic effect on the solution procedures and the completion time. The time for a human to solve a coupled parameter design problem rises geometrically as problem size rises from 2×2 to 5×5. These results are discussed in the context of information processing models of human cognition. The implications for current design theories and methodologies are explored.

Design theory Parameter design Cognitive science Complexity Axiomatic design Design structure matrix 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  •  N. Hirschi
    • 1
  •  D. Frey
    • 2
  1. 1.Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
  2. 2.Department of Mechanical Engineering, F. W. Olin College of Engineering, 1735 Great Plain Ave., Needham, MA 02492, USA

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