Products that transform into multiple states give access to greater flexibility and functionality in a single system. These “transformers” capture the imagination and can be elegant, compact, and convenient. Mechanical transformers are usually designed ad hoc; a methodology specifically aimed at creating transformation processes would help the designer better understand when to use transformation and how to best seize its advantages and avoid its pitfalls. There is an underlying common basis of principles and facilitators (e.g. Fold, Share Core Structure, Segment) that describes transformation processes. We conducted an empirical study of 190 reconfigurable products across several domains, observing the overall trends in how transformation occurs. We confirmed the consistent use of similar principles and facilitators across the design space, and we quantitatively determined the extent of correlation among them. This paper lays out characteristics and interactions that are popular in current transformer design, as well as opportunities for innovation in new directions. A case study is also presented that illustrates how these results can be used in the future to help develop a step-by-step methodology for generating concepts of transforming products.

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