The process of product development is characterized by high demands on the cognitive capacity of designers. We define the product design process as a complex problem-solving task under conditions of task novelty, pressure and uncertainty. These factors lead to the application of explicit knowledge, but also to the application of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is acquired and developed through concrete and sensual experience; its contents are working below a subjective threshold and are not consciously perceived as guiding one’s actions. It contains sometimes “false” theories, which can only be examined and changed when these contents become aware. We propose a method that supports the explication of tacit knowledge and eases dealing with complexity in high demanding product development situations. The method was adapted to the particular demands of the early phases in product design and implemented in a controlled study with sixty students of mechanical engineering. Results show a positive influence of the method on the quality of product innovation. Subsequently, the procedure was altered in respect to practicability and implemented in a real-world product design project with additional students. We describe the method, illustrate its implementation in a specific design task and discuss the industrial application of the method.

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