Design-by-analogy is a powerful approach to augment traditional concept generation methods by expanding the set of generated ideas using similarity relationships from solutions to analogous problems. While the concept of design-by-analogy has been known for some time, few actual methods and tools exist to assist designers in systematically seeking and identifying analogies from general data sources, databases, or repositories, such as patent databases. A new method for extracting functional analogies from data sources has been developed to provide this capability, here based on a functional basis rather than form or conflict descriptions. Building on past research, we utilize a functional vector space model (VSM) to quantify analogous similarity of an idea's functionality. We quantitatively evaluate the functional similarity between represented design problems and, in this case, patent descriptions of products. We also develop document parsing algorithms to reduce text descriptions of the data sources down to the key functions, for use in the functional similarity analysis and functional vector space modeling. To do this, we apply Zipf's law on word count order reduction to reduce the words within the documents down to the applicable functionally critical terms, thus providing a mapping process for function based search. The reduction of a document into functional analogous words enables the matching to novel ideas that are functionally similar, which can be customized various ways. This approach thereby provides relevant sources of design-by-analogy inspiration. As a verification of the approach, two original design problem case studies illustrate the distance range of analogical solutions that can be extracted. This range extends from very near-field, literal solutions to far-field cross-domain analogies.

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