7 Techniques to Conceptual Engineering

Concept engineering, conceptual engineering, and, less specifically, conceptualization, all refer to the process of selecting which features a product should have. This is relevant to building software as well as development of physical products or services.

I’m not an expert conceptual engineer or an engineer at all really which I why I was a bit surprised looking at the Wikipedia entry for conceptualization as part of the engineering design process. The entry includes 4 techniques and I thought of 3 others it didn’t cover.

I also thought it was strange that Wikipedia says, “These solutions can be found by using ideation, the mental process by which ideas are generated,” from which I read, “The way you do conceptualization is to think of things.”

The 4 methods Wikipedia mentions include:

  1. trigger word – a word or phrase associated with the issue at hand is stated, and subsequent words and phrases are evoked.
  2. morphological chart – independent design characteristics are listed in a chart, and different engineering solutions are proposed for each solution. Normally, a preliminary sketch and short report accompany the morphological chart.
  3. synectics – the engineer imagines him or herself as the item and asks, “What would I do if I were the system?” This unconventional method of thinking may find a solution to the problem at hand. The vital aspects of the conceptualization step is synthesis. Synthesis is the process of taking the element of the concept and arranging them in the proper way. Synthesis creative process is present in every design.
  4. brainstorming – this popular method involves thinking of different ideas, typically as part of a small group, and adopting these ideas in some form as a solution to the problem

The 3 methods I would add include:

  1. Match to theory – This can work two ways.
    1. First, given the desired use of the product, what theories are involved in the optimization of related outcomes? For example, if the desired use is to determine the risk on a loan, what theories are related to optimal risk assessment and management? What adjustments can be made which would lead to improvements in theory?
    2. Alternatively, given some particular product, what theories or research are related to the specific use of that product, if any, and what optimizations are suggested there?
  2. Copy, modify, or extend – Identify products which accomplish desired outcomes and attempt to mimic, modify, or extend these products rather than starting from scratch. Looking for a southwestern flavor in food? Then look for southwestern tasting items and mimic their ingredients or cooking techniques.
  3. Tried and true – If the development team has certain areas of expertise, attempt to adapt those skills into something useable rather than optimizing from the ground up.
  4. Guess and check – If prototyping is easy for the product in question then develop several solutions and chose the empirically best one. A similar thing can be done simply in thought experiment where various hypothetical solutions are proposed and they can be logically compared to one another, compared on the basis of a little research, or compared by brainstorming with other people.

Ultimately, and I think the Wikipedia article basically states this, you would compare all the possibilities you have come up with each other and attempt to find the best benefit per cost solution.

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