The authors report on their development of computer-based diagramming tools to support the early stages of engineering design and to improve the capacity to innovate. We believe that the human brain is currently the best available device to perform early designing. Thus, good tools will facilitate designers' abilities to “see” information patterns, reflect on them, and achieve insights they may not have achieved otherwise. Our work suggests that diagram layout and style are at least as important as the textual content for their rapid comprehension. These features can be easier to manage in software than in textual descriptions, leading to tools that are more robust and usable. We are working along several lines of inquiry intended to explore particular aspects of the matter, including using existent tools such as concept maps, and developing alternative tools to test ideas about supporting early design by diagramming. While we have not formally evaluated much of our work, anecdotal evidence is encouraging.
F.A. Salustri, R.H. Bracewell, N. Eng, and J.S. Weerasinghe. Visualising early engineering design information with diagrams, Journal of Design Research, 6(1-2):190-217, 2007.