Fil Salustri's Design Site

Site Tools


Design by Attribute

Sometimes, changing one attribute of one component of a design can lead you to an entirely different design.


A design can be thought of as a collection of attributes of its components. Change one attribute, and the whole design can be radically altered. So if you're looking for an innovative design, you can try to start with a known design, and then study its attributes and see what happens when you change them.

For example, the dollies used to deliver beverages to passengers on European trains used to have a large coffee maker built into them. The tank for hot water was near the top of the dolly. This made the dolly unstable, difficult to steer, difficult to see around, and therefore dangerous.

By observing that the water tank is large and heavy (when full, at least), we can immediately suggest an improved design, wherein the tank is placed low in the dolly. In this case, the attribute of the product is the ability to make coffee, and the properties involved are the size and weight of the water tank.

By placing the tank lower, the center of gravity of the dolly is lowered. This makes the dolly more stable and easy to steer. Also, by eliminating the large-sized tank from the upper part of the dolly, the top of the dolly can be made narrower, and so improve visibility so that the dolly operator can see what's in front of the dolly.

Certain properties of objects are obvious targets for this kind of reasoning. Some of these include:

size: If something is big, try to make it small.

shape: If something is square or flat, can it be used as a base for something else? If it's round, can it be rotated for some useful purpose?

weight: Is something heavy? Can this be used to stabilize the product? How should the weight be distributed to achieve this?

density: Low density materials make things light. What are the advantages of very light (or very heavy) things?

surface finish: Roughly finished things tend to have high coefficients of friction. Is that useful?

conduction: Is electric conduction an advantage or a disadvantage? Can something that is conductive be used safely as a ground?


Corrosion test

A typical corrosion test in industry involves immersing samples of materials for which corrosion rates are to be determined into corrosive solutions, and measuring the difference in sample weight due to the test. The difference in weight is a measure of the rate of corrosion.

Traditionally, one puts the corrosive solution in a special container, and the sample is then immersed. Constructing the special containers is costly and time-consuming; typically, materials like gold or platinum would be used because they do not corrode.

How might attribute design be used here?

Ideally, we would not have the costly containers, but we need something to contain the corrosive solution. We need a container that needs to not exist.

What attributes do we have available? There are only the attributes of the corrosive solution and of the sample to be tested. One possibility is to recognize that the mass and volume of the sample itself could be used as the container.

That is, we make a container out of sample material and fill it with corrosive solution. All costs associated with the manufacture and disposal of the containers is eliminated.

Note: This example can also be derived from TRIZ principles.

Ion thrusters for spacecraft

Ion thrusters are a kind of low-thrust space propulsion system that can be very successful in deep space. They can be quite large physically. However, because of the speed of the ion jet and the buildup of electrostatic forces, they tend to wear out quite quickly.

In a recent patent, however, researchers have developed micro- and nano-scale ion thrusters that last much longer, and when bundled into large panels with millions of units, produce the same levels of thrust as their conventional counterparts. An added benefit is that one can fine and efficient control. Built in modules, they are easily replaced (on hypothetical manned missions) and can cost much less that conventional ion thruster.

The original thruster was very large. The improved design is based on very small thrusters acting together. This is a case radically changing the size attribute.

design/design_by_attribute.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)