Development of a Morphological Approach in Sustainable Product Designing

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The presented thesis is an attempt to develop a morphological approach in sustainable product designing. Design being one of the fundamental activities of human beings has contributed significantly towards the escalation of mass production and mass consumption. This growth has resulted in the existing consumerism based society and socio-economic development trends, which in recent years was found to be unsustainable. Therefore, there is an urgent need to rethink and realign our activities in a sustainable direction. Design as an activity and field of study has a tremendous potential towards contributing to sustainable development. This potential proliferate the consensus of integrating sustainability philosophy with design practice. In recent years, it has acquired the status of the cornerstone in design research. Many researchers argue, that in today’s context, designing for sustainability is no longer optional, and should be treated as an integral part of the design process. However, literature evidences that this has not yet happened in practice. In general, sustainability parameters are either considered optional or as an added set of constraints limiting the design space. Moreover, the traditional morphologies of design process available in the popular literature were found to be inadequate for sustainable designing. This research builds on this recently evolved consensus of many design researchers and intends to develop a morphological approach in sustainable product designing. The thesis identified the ‘creative phase’ of design process ideally suited for sustainability integration. This is due to its various merits, like complexity handling capacity, the flexibility of decision making, and altering it at low cost, etc. This thesis identified, and attempted to address three research gaps in sustainable design, and tailored its findings to propose the morphological approach in sustainable product designing. It employed extensive literature analysis and empirical study with creative designers for the purpose. The first research gap addressed in this thesis focuses on developing a comprehensive framework for sustainable design. Frameworks are the logical structures that make any concept (or philosophy) understandable, especially to novice and non-experts. The philosophy of sustainable design in literature was found to be diverse and interpretative in nature. Moreover, available frameworks and conceptual models representing the philosophy were found to be inadequate for creative designers. This research derived a comprehensive framework for sustainable design, addressing the first research gap. This framework proposed ten directions of sustainability, applicable at product, lifecycle, and system levels. Four kind of inter and intra-dimensional relationships were identified among these directions and were presented as interaction matrix. The framework (with 10 sustainability directions) was expected to support creative designers in exploring sustainability issues at analysis phase of design. The interaction matrix was expected to reflect on the effect of design decisions on other directions of sustainability at synthesis phase. The second research gap addressed in this thesis was directed towards understanding the mental models and problem-solving approaches in sustainable design, as practiced by creative designers. Mental models are internal symbol or representation of external reality, hypothesized to play a major role in cognition, reasoning and decision-making. It is imperative that a flawed or an incomplete mental model of sustainable design will reflect in the problem-solving approaches of creative designers. Problem-solving approaches under normal circumstances has been extensively studied empirically and reported in the literature; however designing with sustainability consideration was not adequately addressed in the literature. Such study was anticipated to reveal how creative designers interpret, and use sustainability philosophy in practice. It was also expected to reveal in the nature of support tool required for sustainable designing This thesis reported an empirical study conducted for exploring the mental models and problem-solving approaches of creative designers. The study revealed that despite the broadening of scope and dimension of sustainable design, existing mental models of novice creative designers are still rooted in the environmental-conscious philosophies of design. It also indicated that novice designers tend to follow traditional design morphology but, made additional changes to accommodate sustainability consideration. This behaviour reflects the limitations of traditional design morphologies in the context of sustainable designing and points out the need of improved morphology. The third research gap addressed in this thesis focuses on developing morphology for incorporating sustainability issues into the creative design phase. Traditionally designers are trained for designing products that satisfy human needs and aspiration. However, in literature there is a lack of an operational method for incorporating sustainability issues into the creative design phase. This thesis tailored the findings of previous two research gaps and proposed a model of morphology for sustainable designing. This morphology was expected to provide creative designers with an operational method of approaching sustainability. It was validated through a dry run test using mobile phones as a sample product. The test pointed out new directions for improving the sustainability of products. These directions were not found to be adequately addressed in the literature, indicating the success of the proposed morphology.
Supervisor: Pradeep G. Yammiyavar