Design-by-analogy (DbA) is an important method for innovation that has gained much attention due to its history of leading to successful and novel design solutions. The method uses a repository of existing design solutions where designers can recognize and retrieve analogical inspirations. Yet, exploring for analogical inspiration has been a laborious task for designers. This work presents a computational methodology that is driven by a topic modeling technique called non-negative matrix factorization (NMF). NMF is widely used in the text mining field for its ability to discover topics within documents based on their semantic content. In the proposed methodology, NMF is performed iteratively to build hierarchical repositories of design solutions, with which designers can explore clusters of analogical stimuli. This methodology has been applied to a repository of mechanical design-related patents, processed to contain only component-, behavior-, or material-based content to test if unique and valuable attribute-based analogical inspiration can be discovered from the different representations of patent data. The hierarchical repositories have been visualized, and a case study has been conducted to test the effectiveness of the analogical retrieval process of the proposed methodology. Overall, this paper demonstrates that the exploration-based computational methodology may provide designers an enhanced control over design repositories to retrieve analogical inspiration for DbA practice.

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