How can information be displayed to communicate most effectively and efficiently?
[FH92] notes the importance of visualizations, even though the work was done in 1992.
In mechanical design, CAD is the principal form of visualising products. However, in stages of the design process preceding the establishment of geometry (e.g. concept design, systems design, etc.) there is no method, technique, or tool to capture and represent visually the information that is used to drive the design forward. This is in opposition to other disciplines, such as architecture and electrical engineering, where the notion of a product architecture is fundamental to the early design stages. Indeed, in these other disciplines there are many tools to represent architectures visually.
Visual (non-textual) representations of information can be extremely dense and communicate tremendous amounts of information easily and quickly.
Can a visual, diagrammatic form of information representation be developed for mechanical design? I believe the answer is 'yes', and am pursuing various projects to prove this hypothesis and develop the necessary methods and tools.
Design schematics: This is the overarching goal: a diagrammatic language able to represent all non-geometric information about products, and with supporting tools to facilitate the process of design in the pre-geometry stages.
Visual wikis: A visual wiki combines visualization with conventional text-based wikis.
Design Structure Graphs: The design structure matrix (DSM) is a very useful tool in product development. I believe it could be even more useful if a DSM were represented as a graph rather than a matrix. A design structure graph (DSG) is a diagrammatic rendering of a DSM. Our hypothesis is that a DSG more easily and quickly communicates important information about a design task to a human designer than a DSM.
Chapin Charts: Chapin charts were once proposed as an alternative to flowcharts. I believe the reason chapin charts never caught on is that they are hard to draw by hand; and at the time they were invented, there were no computer tools to create diagrams. These days, however, almost anything is possible. Furthermore, chapin charts don't only work for software, but, as with flowcharts, they can be applied in any procedural setting.
Functional Analysis Diagrams: Developed by Aurisicchio et all ([AEO11]), these are based on concept maps with specific rules added to capture diagrammatically aspects of design function modelling. In these, nodes represent components (internal, external/environmental, and sub-components), and functions represent functions.
Radar plots: These are two-dimensional plots with multiple axes arranged in a polar geometry about an origin. The variables are typically orthogonal, but the rendering doesn't not maintain orthogonality in rendering. This essentially lets one plot data in greater than 2D on a 2D plot. Connecting the points on each variable axes for a set of data can be useful to show biases, priorities, or implicit weights of the values.
Simple causal relationship diagrams (or means-ends diagrams), precursors to causal loop diagrams, were identified as far back as 1992 as beneficial. They were described thus: “Factors with many ‘out’ arrows are the givens in this generalized map; those with arrows both ‘in’ and ‘out’ denote means; while those with many ‘in’ arrows mark important ends.”
Topicscape is a 3d concept mapping tool. Nathan Eng sums up this commercial package as follows:
The parts that raise flags:
Parts that look like good ideas: