Current design theory lacks a systematic method to identify what designers know that helps them to create innovative products. In the early stages of idea generation, designers may find novel ideas come readily to mind, or may become fixated on their own or existing products. This may limit the ability to consider more and more varied candidate concepts that may potentially lead to innovation. To aid in idea generation, we sought to identify “design heuristics,” or “rules of thumb,” evident in award-winning designs. In this paper, we demonstrate a content analysis method for discovering heuristics in the designs of innovative products. Our method depends on comparison to a baseline of existing products so that the innovative change can be readily identified. Through an analysis of key features and functional elements in the designs of over 400 award-winning products, 40 heuristic principles were extracted. These design heuristics are outlined according to their perceived role in changing an existing product concept into a novel design, and examples of other products using the heuristics are provided. To demonstrate the ease of use of these design heuristics, we examined outcomes from a classroom study and found that concepts created using design heuristics were rated as more creative and varied. The analysis of changes from existing to innovative products can provide evidence of useful heuristic principles to apply in creating new designs.

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