Affordance-based design methods for innovative design, redesign and reverse engineering

  • Jonathan R. A. Maier
  • Georges M. FadelEmail author
Original Paper


Rather than developing methods to address problems as they occur, the effort in this paper is to formulate methods based on an explicit theory. Methods developed in this way have more scientific rigor because underlying propositions and assumptions are clearly articulated, thus the applicability and limitations of the methods are well defined. The underlying theory used in this work is that of affordance-based design, which has been developed by the authors in a recent series of papers, and is based in turn on the theory of affordances from perceptual psychology. This paper extends affordance-based design into prescriptive methods. A broad affordance-based design process is introduced together with methods for documenting affordances, methods for designing individual affordances, an affordance-based method for reverse engineering and redesign, the affordance structure matrix, and affordance-based selection matrices. Engineering examples used to illustrate the methods include the high level design of an automobile, comfort to automobile passengers, the meshing of gears, wear of gears, a vacuum cleaner, and automotive window switches.


Affordances Affordance-based design Design methodology 



This research focuses has been supported in part by Grant #CMMI-0826441 from the National Science Foundation. We would like to thank Janna Sandel for her work in preparing the vacuum cleaner example, Jonathan Thomas for his work in preparing the automotive switch example, and Professor Gregory Mocko for his collaboration on the automotive switch example.


  1. Altshuller GS (1984) Creativity as an exact science. Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, India. (trans. Anthony Williams)Google Scholar
  2. Altshuller GS (1996) And suddenly the inventor appeared: TRIZ, the theory of inventive problem solving. Technical Innovation Center, Worcester, MA. (trans. Shulyak L)Google Scholar
  3. Altshuller GS (1997) 40 principles: TRIZ keys to technical innovation. Technical Innovation Center, Worcester, MA. (trans. Shulyak L, Rodman S)Google Scholar
  4. Altshuller GS (2000) The innovation algorithm: TRIZ, systematic innovation and technical creativity. Technical Innovation Center, Worcester, MA. (trans. Shulyak L, Rodman S)Google Scholar
  5. Blackenfelt M (2001) Modularisation by relational matrices—a method for the consideration of strategic and functional aspects. In: Riitahuhta A, Pulkkinen A (eds) Design for configuration, 2001. Proceedings of the 5th WDK workshop on product structuring, Tampere, Finland, Springer pp 134–152Google Scholar
  6. Clausing D (1994) Quality function deployment. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. Franssen M (2005) Arrow’s theorem, multi-criteria decision problems and multi-attribute preferences in engineering design. Res Eng Design 16:42–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gaffney ES, Maier JRA, Fadel GM (2007) Roles of function and affordance in the evolution of artifacts. In: Proceedings of ICED 2007, Paris, France, Paper no. 592Google Scholar
  9. Gibson JJ (1979) The theory of affordances. In: The ecological approach to visual perception. Houghton Mifflin, Hopewell: 127–143Google Scholar
  10. Hazelrigg GA (1996) Systems engineering: an approach to information-based design. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  11. Hellfritz H (1978) Innovation via Galeriemethode (Innovation via the art gallery method). Taunus, KonigsteinGoogle Scholar
  12. Kanstrup L, Lundin M (2006) Method for detection of sleepiness: measurement of interaction between driver and vehicle. Masters Thesis, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Linkoping UniversityGoogle Scholar
  13. Kelly T, Littman J (2001) The art of innovation: lessons in creativity from Ideo, America’s leading design firm. Doubleday, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Kuppuraju N, Ittimakin P, Mistree F (1985) Design through selection: a method that works. Des Stud 6(2):96–106Google Scholar
  15. Litvin FL, Fuentes A (2004) Gear geometry and applied theory, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, New YorkzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  16. Maier JRA (2008) Rethinking design theory. Mech Eng 130(9):34–37Google Scholar
  17. Maier JRA, Fadel GM (2001) Affordance: the fundamental concept in engineering design. In: Proceedings of ASME design theory and methodology conference, Pittsburgh, PA. Paper no. DETC2001/DTM-21700Google Scholar
  18. Maier JRA, Fadel GM (2002) Comparing function and affordance as bases for design. In: Proceedings of ASME design theory and methodology conference, Montreal, Canada. Paper no. DETC2002/DTM-34029Google Scholar
  19. Maier JRA, Fadel GM (2003) Affordance-based methods for design. In: Proceedings of ASME design theory and methodology conference, Chicago, IL. Paper no. DETC2003/DTM-48673Google Scholar
  20. Maier JRA, Fadel GM (2005a) Understanding the complexity of design. In: Braha D, Minai A, Bar-Yam Y (eds) Complex engineering systems. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Maier JRA, Fadel GM (2005b) A case study contrasting German systematic engineering design with affordance based design. In: Proceedings of ASME design theory and methodology conference, Long Beach, CA. Paper no. DETC2005-84954Google Scholar
  22. Maier JRA, Fadel GM (2008) Affordance based design: a relational theory for design, Res Eng Design (in press). doi: 10.1007/s00163-008-0060-3
  23. Maier JRA, Ezhilan T, Fadel GM (2007) The affordance structure matrix—a concept exploration and attention directing tool for affordance based design. In: Proceedings of ASME design theory and methodology conference, Las Vegas, NV. Paper no. DETC2007-34526Google Scholar
  24. Maier JRA, Fadel GM, Batisto D (2008a) An affordance based approach to architectural theory, design, and practice. Des Stud (submitted, under review)Google Scholar
  25. Maier JRA, Sandel J, Fadel GM (2008b) Extending the affordance structure matrix–mapping design structure and requirements to behavior. In: Proceedings of DSM 2008, Stockholm, SwedenGoogle Scholar
  26. Marlin R (2004) Getting geared. URL:
  27. Otto K, Wood K (2001) Product design: techniques in reverse engineering and new product development. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  28. Pahl G, Beitz W (1996) Engineering design: a systematic approach, 2nd edn. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. Pugh S (1996) Creating innovative products using total design. Prentice-Hall, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. Rourkes N (1988) Design synectics: stimulating creativity in design. Davis Publications, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Scott MJ, Antonsson EK (1999) Arrow’s theorem and engineering design decision making. Res Eng Des 11:218–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Shupe J, Mistree F et al (1987) Compromise: an effective approach for the hierarchical design of structural systems. Comput Struct 26(6):1027–1037zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Simon HA (1996) The sciences of the artificial, 3rd edn. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  34. Steward DV (1981) Systems analysis and management: structure, strategy and design. Petrocelli Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  35. Suh NP (1990) The principles of design. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  36. Suh NP (2001) Axiomatic design: advances and applications. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  37. Webb Associates (1978) Anthropometric source book. Report number: NASA-RP-1024, S-479-VOL-1. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Yellow SpringsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clemson Research in Engineering Design and Optimization (CREDO) Laboratory, Department of Mechanical EngineeringClemson UniversityClemsonUSA

Personalised recommendations