Creativity is increasingly recognised as an essential component of engineering design. This paper describes an exploratory study into the nature and importance of creativity in engineering design problem solving in relation to the possible impact of software design tools. The first stage of the study involved an empirical investigation in the form of a case study of the use of standard CAD tool sets and the development of a systems engineering software support tool. It was found that there were several ways in which CAD influenced the creative process, including enhancing visualisation and communication, premature fixation, circumscribed thinking and bounded ideation. The tool development experience uncovered the difficulty in supporting creative processes from the developer’s perspective. The issues were the necessity of making assumptions, achieving a balance between structure and flexibility, and the pitfalls of satisfying user wants and needs. The second part of the study involved the development of a model of the creative problem solving process in engineering design. This provided a possible explanation for why purpose designed engineering software tools might encourage an analytical problem solving approach and discourage a more creative approach.

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