Research in Engineering Design

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 103–132 | Cite as

A state-transition model of team conceptual design activity

  • Tomislav MartinecEmail author
  • Stanko Škec
  • Nikola Horvat
  • Mario Štorga
Original Paper


The purpose of the study is to model the micro-scale process patterns which can be identified during team conceptual design activities. A state-transition model has been developed and used to empirically investigate the patterns of design operations during two types of team conceptual design activities: ideation and concept review. The presented work builds on the perception of design problems as ill-defined and implies that conceptual design activities involve the simultaneous development of problems and solutions using three distinctive design operations—analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The three design operations have been defined as fine-grain design steps performed by design teams when exploring the content of both the problem and the solution dimensions of the design space. Moreover, design operations have been conceptualised as transitions between states of the explored design space, thus providing a basis for the state-transition model. The model’s ability to map and visualise proportions of design operation sequences emerging during ideation and concept review has facilitated the identification of both the activity-specific patterns and patterns that were likely to appear during both types of empirically investigated activities. The two activities exhibited similar patterns, such as alternation of solution synthesis and analysis, sequences of synthesis, analysis and evaluation within solution space, and the potential co-evolution episodes. Nevertheless, divergent traits have been identified for ideation, and convergent traits for concept review, based on the significant differences in proportions of design operations and their sequences.


Design process Conceptual design activity Teamwork State-transition model Ideation Concept review 



This paper reports on work funded by the Croatian Science Foundation MInMED ( and TAIDE projects ( The authors would like to thank Philip Cash (TU Denmark) for providing the multimedia data of the experiment sessions.


Croatian Science Foundation project IP-2018-01-7269: Team Adaptability for Innovation-Oriented Product Development - TAIDE (

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of DesignFaculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture, University of ZagrebZagrebCroatia
  2. 2.Technical University of Denmark, DTU Management EngineeringLyngbyDenmark
  3. 3.Division of Humans and Technology - Department of Business Administration, Technology and Social SciencesLuleå University of TechnologyLuleåSweden

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