Author's School

School of Engineering & Applied Science

Author's Department/Program

Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Mark Jakiela


In product design and development projects, the most important part is identifying user needs. Traditional methods such as surveys, focus group studies and interviews are expensive and sometime inaccurate in identifying those needs. Inspired by the open source software development, along with the research that has been done on the "lead user" method, the method of using collective customer wisdom to modify old products or even develop new products has become an emerging new design method and is starting to get popularity and success. However, the effectiveness of such method comparing to the traditional face to face "close" development method is a question that keeping established businesses from apply such method. At the same time, failures of early attempts to use such methods also cast doubts about the quality of this method. We set up two experiments to compare this method and the traditional face to face method, and found out that the effectiveness of both methods were about the same. Problems of implementing such method also emerged from the experiment, possible solutions are discussed, and future studies are also identified. Comparing this method to the open source software design, there is one stage of the development that is unique for mechanical products. The prototyping and manufacturing of mechanical products involved cost and quality control issues that don't exist in software development. We conducted an experiment of applying a collaborative open design approach to test the possibility and necessity of applying such design method during prototype fabrication. Our results showed that open collaborative design is necessary to identify true customer needs. A product prototyping and manufacturing method is also proposed for real world practice. The open collaborative design method is new and is not easily adopted by established businesses, as they are often reluctant to implement new approaches. Entrepreneurs can usually take advantage of this situation and establish their share of the market, even possibly driving out the established businesses later on. We argue that the open collaborative design method is one such technology. Future research and practice is proposed and discussed.


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