New Engineering Design Processes through Constructs of Humour

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Design Manufacture and Engineering Man

Abstract

This project aims to reinvigorate early phase concept design by developing new creative engineering design processes through constructs of humour.

Humour is a human faculty and a capacity for its generation and appreciation is detectable in most people. Humour therefore plays an inherent, often positive and unconsciously strategic, role in organisational culture, team dynamics, management and creativity. In humour and organisational studies there is significant support for the deliberate leveraging of positive humour cognitive mechanisms to further enhance creative and social processes.

Creative processes are critical to innovation through engineering design, particularly during early conceptual process phases. When engineering designers and teams engage in idea generation and other creative tasks, a lack of openness to others, engagement with the problem and willingness to take risks can inhibit the quality and volume of concepts produced. 'Brainstorming' is a group problem solving technique that can be applied to nearly any open-ended task. It has become a shorthand for any solution focused group discussion and in many cases does not take place in the open-minded, inventive, fluid atmosphere that is necessary for it to be effective. While other techniques such as morphological charts, TRIZ and the gallery method exist, they are similarly impaired by a lack of participant engagement.

A dominant theory of humour is that it is a process involving the set-up and resolution of 'incongruities'; the recipient feels emotions of surprise and satisfaction resulting in laughter. For engineering design, incongruous humour is a powerful analogy for creative design process explaining how novel, unexpected but appropriate solutions are recognised. One study suggests that a group of experienced comedians were more effective in product design idea generation than trained designers. However, the precise reasons for this are not fully understood, corresponding results have not been sought within real situated design processes, technical or otherwise, and there has been no formal attempt to package humour based processes for effective use in design practice.

Using prominent arguments in the literature in relation to incongruity, relief and superiority in humour, we have conducted a preliminary study that established the feasibility of incorporating stimuli to enhance concept design sessions Based on this, we have identified three exploratory themes based on aspects of humour with potential for further integration with creative design methods:
1. Humour to facilitate collaboration. Laughter can help free us from the shackles of day-to-day analytic thinking. This theme will explore the use of humorous material and comedy to generate group cohesion and structure sessions to achieve a positive, non-critical attitude towards the task in hand.
2. Humour to encourage immersion. Creative thinking benefits from a level of absorption or 'flow' discussed by and others to achieve depths of empathy and insight. This theme will explore the use of improvisational routines ('Yes, and...') and comedic exercises to increase the level of engagement by the group.
3. Humour to diversify the solution space. Incongruity, or the juxtaposition of dissimilar ideas, is fundamental to many jocular structures. This theme will explore the use of the properties of incongruity to encourage the group to strive for unusual ideas through the use of humorous narratives and unexpected perspectives.

This project will allow further integration of aspects of humour to enhance engagement, structure and novelty in idea generation; to assess effectiveness through a series of workshops; and to present enhanced guidelines as a basis for new methods and tools to enhance innovative working practices. This would represent a significant step forward in the academic fields of creativity, innovation and design methods.

Planned Impact

The project's results will deliver impact to engineering organisations / designers, project participants, cross-disciplinary creatives, academic researchers and design education in the following ways:

Engineering Organisations - The output guidelines will be digitally enhanced with examples of implementation and case study through video, web and other digital media. Elements of this work will be made freely available through creative commons licensing to create further engagement and contribution. It is also anticipated that valuable facilitation experience and knowledge will be developed through the project and that training and intervention programmes will be developed through the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) mechanisms of DMEM and the University of Strathclyde. The project is focusing on engineering design, where the project idea was initiated, however, it is envisioned that there will be significant transferability of the project outputs to other creative processes of design and innovative business.

Engineering Designers - The project will result in improved creative performance during the conceptual phase of engineering design processes. This will be achieved by developing approaches based on humour mechanisms broadening the solution space, through positively affecting team engagement and sustaining engineering designers engagement with complex problems. Designers will have access to the output guidelines and be able to consider humour processes as part of their personal development planning.

Participant Companies - The interventions in phase 3 of the project aim to change engineering design processes for improved creativity and ultimately innovation. The interventions will be designed and evaluated with the express intention of embedding sustainable improvements in engineering design creativity for the participant organisations.

Cross-disciplinary creatives - Humour may be most effectively integrated into organisational practice through intervention and training programmes. This provides new cross-discipline avenues for creative professionals where their creative and performative experiences are highly valued. The project has potential to define new roles for humourists within engineering business. Collaborating organisation "To be Continued..." are already using improvisation as a basis for corporate team building workshops, but the project will provide a new and specific disciplinary experience and focus for them to enhance their future potential.

Academic Research - The project aims and outcomes are well aligned with 'Design Creativity' and the associated International Journal of Design Creativity. The project deliberately integrates humour creation processes as the basis for design process; there is potential for creative design processes to be resultantly affected, altered or for new processes to be realised. Project outputs will also be selectively prepared for publication in other prominent journals, such Design Studies, Journal of Engineering Design and Research in Engineering Design.

Education - Design process and methods are central to design led engineering education. The enhanced guidelines are anticipated as an effective means to engaging students in creative design methods at a number of levels: in introductory design process modules; more formally exploration in mid-course Design Methods teaching and; pragmatically as part of design projects. Early dissemination of results will be through the International Engineering and Product Design Education Conference.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Description CURRENT FINDINGS

This research set out to explore how specific elements or 'constructs' of humour may be applied to divergent idea generation in the early phase of the design process, with a view to enhancing team creativity when solving complex design problems.
Following a literature review of humour theory, humour practice and the link between humour and creativity, a number of constructs were identified that had potential to be applied to the design process, including humour theories, comedic devices and humour creation processes.

Finding 1: constructs of humour including incongruity theory, improvisation processes and comedic devices such as hyperbole, absurdity and displacement can be aligned with design ideation practices.

A series of exploratory workshops were then conducted to explore various approaches to humour-based ideation. Following qualitative observations and participant feedback, an approach based on longform improvised comedy ('improv') was selected for further development.

Finding 2: an approach to group ideation based on the principles and processes of improvised comedy may be effectively applied to an engineering design context.

The design improv method is designed to be carried out by 3-8 participants with a dedicated facilitator. Following a warm-up and brief discussion of the design challenge, teams build up a 'base reality' for a concept using the 'Yes And' technique - where the premise offered by others is accepted and built upon to create a shared narrative. This can lead to highly unconventional ideation pathways to which all team members contribute collaboratively. A single idea that stands out as being most surprising or unusual is then heightened using the 'If Then' technique to embellish it further. This allows a single idea to be pushed to its limits, often resulting in exaggerated, absurd or incongruous scenarios from which more meaningful or practical insights can be drawn. This process is repeated multiple times. Preliminary findings suggest this to be an engaging and productive idea generation method, which overcomes some of the common and debilitating brainstorming problems such as self-censorship, unequal contribution and idea fixation. Participants reported that the method helped them build on each other's ideas more effectively, and generate more bold and creative solutions.



FUTURE OUTCOMES

The method is now being tested further, under experimental conditions, to enable the process and its outputs to be empirically evaluated in comparison to the classic brainstorming method. We will gain further insights into the effect an improvisation-based approach may have on the style, connectivity and collaboration within the ideation process (linkography), and the novelty, variety, quality and quantity of its outputs (creativity metrics).
Exploitation Route 1. The link between humour and design creativity is a growing research area. We have identified a range of humour constructs that may be applied to design ideation, creating opportunities for further research exploration and experimentation.

2. The 'design improv' ideation method has been refined and validated through a series of iterative workshops with design and manufacturing students and practitioners. It is ready to be adopted by creative teams in industry seeking new approaches to idea generation. We plan to disseminate our findings further throughout the final months of the project e.g. through the development of an online resource.
Sectors Creative Economy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
 
Description The new improvisation-based approach to design ideation has been developed through a workshop-based methodology and has therefore engaged with practitioners throughout. Details on specific events can be found under 'engagements'. To date our workshops with practitioners have reached approximately 60 individuals. These have included representatives from engineering design, industrials design, service design, games design and manufacturing, as well as applied improvisation trainers. Specific examples include Snook Design Glasgow, PDR Cardiff and EEF manufacturers association. During these workshops, participants were able to sample the new method and engage in a discussion on its potential benefits and application to their design practice. The design improv method has also been used by five groups of final year undergraduate product design engineering students to generate ideas for design briefs provided by industrial clients. These clients range from SMEs to global brands and encompass products ranging from environmental assessment equipment to aesthetic lighting products. In these projects the client maintains regular communication with the students, following their progress throughout the design process. We plan to deliver further impact in the near future through our participation in 'Engage with Strathclyde Week' (see engagements section) and through the proposed development of an online resource that would enable practitioners to utilise the method independently. We have recently formed links with Scottish Enterprise and envisage that this relationship will enable us to engage further with industry throughout its development.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Cultural,Economic
 
Description Bright Club collaboration 
Organisation Bright Club
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Bright Club through dialogue and discussion between their members and our research team are providing invaluable insights into the process of humour/humour constructs.
Collaborator Contribution We estimate the contribution at around 20 days of contribution throughout the life of the project
Impact None to date
Start Year 2015
 
Description Bring a Brick podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr. Gillian Hatcher was a guest on the applied improvisation podcast 'Build a Brick', hosted by professional improviser and comedian John Cooper. She was interviewed about her research interests and involvement in the project. The podcast is promoted to applied improvisation practitioners as well as industry with an interest in adopting improvisation practices and members of the general public with an interest in improv.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://bringabrickpodcast.com/
 
Description Special Session, Design Emotion conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A special session at the Design Emotion conference in Amsterdam, 30 September 2016. This is an academic conference that is also well-attended by industry. We introduced participants to the research project before guiding them through a demonstration of the design improv method in action, followed by an open discussion and feedback session.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.de2016.org/
 
Description Workshop, Applied Improvisation Network (AIN) conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Design improv workshop as part of the programme of events at the AIN conference in Oxford, August 2016. This is an international conference for 'applied improvisers': professionals who use and teach improvisation techniques in industrial contexts. 9 participants from across Europe attended, including professional improvisers and service design practitioners. We introduced participants to the research project before guiding them through a demonstration of the design improv method in action, followed by an open discussion and feedback session. Following the workshop, a Slack group was formed for design practitioners and academics with an interest in applied improvisation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://appliedimprovisation.network/events/past-conferences/2016-oxford/
 
Description Workshop, Cyclehack Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Design improv workshop as part of the programme for a cycling-themed weekend 'hackathon' hosted by local companies Trakke and Snook design in Glasgow, June 2016. The 31 attendees were a mixture of students and practitioners in industrial design, engineering design and service design, as well as cycling enthusiasts with an interest in design. The teams used the design improv method to generate ideas for their chosen design problems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.cyclehack.com/
 
Description Workshop, Engage with Strathclyde week 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We plan to run an engagement event as part of DMEM Industry Day, held during the university's 'Engage with Strathclyde' week in May 2017. The workshop will be open to all Industry Day attendees (companies participating in DMEM student industrial projects) and will be advertised more widely to attract attendees from the wider creative economy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Workshop, Manufacturing & Engineering North East 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Demonstrative design improv workshop as part of the programme of events for the Manufacturing & Engineering North East exhibition and industry conference, Newcastle, June 2016. Workshops were free to all attendees and were conducted in the main exhibition hall. We introduced participants to the research project and performed a short demonstration with DMEM students. Attendees were then invited to join in and trial the method for themselves. The workshop ended with group discussion / Q&A on the application of design improv in industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.menortheast.co.uk/