This work lends insight into the meaning and impact of “near” and “far” analogies. A cognitive engineering design study is presented that examines the effect of the distance of analogical design stimuli on design solution generation, and places those findings in context of results from the literature. The work ultimately sheds new light on the impact of analogies in the design process and the significance of their distance from a design problem. In this work, the design repository from which analogical stimuli are chosen is the U.S. patent database, a natural choice, as it is one of the largest and easily accessed catalogued databases of inventions. The “near” and “far” analogical stimuli for this study were chosen based on a structure of patents, created using a combination of latent semantic analysis and a Bayesian based algorithm for discovering structural form, resulting in clusters of patents connected by their relative similarity. The findings of this engineering design study are juxtaposed with the findings of a previous study by the authors in design by analogy, which appear to be contradictory when viewed independently. However, by mapping the analogical stimuli used in the earlier work into similar structures along with the patents used in the current study, a relationship between all of the stimuli and their relative distance from the design problem is discovered. The results confirm that “near” and “far” are relative terms, and depend on the characteristics of the potential stimuli. Further, although the literature has shown that “far” analogical stimuli are more likely to lead to the generation of innovative solutions with novel characteristics, there is such a thing as too far. That is, if the stimuli are too distant, they then can become harmful to the design process. Importantly, as well, the data mapping approach to identify analogies works, and is able to impact the effectiveness of the design process. This work has implications not only in the area of finding inspirational designs to use for design by analogy processes in practice, but also for synthesis, or perhaps even unification, of future studies in the field of design by analogy.

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