Problem-solving strategies and expertise in engineering design

Thinking and Reasoning 3 (4):247 – 270 (1997)
Abstract
A study is reported which focused on the problem-solving strategies employed by expert electronics engineers pursuing a real-world task: integrated-circuit design. Verbal protocol data were analysed so as to reveal aspects of the organisation and sequencing of ongoing design activity. These analyses indicated that the designers were implementing a highly systematic solution-development strategy which deviated only a small degree from a normatively optimal top-down and breadth-first method. Although some of the observed deviation could be described as opportunistic in nature, much of it reflected the rapid depth-first exploration of tentative solution ideas. We argue that switches from a predominantly breadth-first mode of problem solving to depth-first or opportunistic modes may be an important aspect of the expert's strategic knowledge about how to conduct the design process effectively when faced with difficulties, uncertainties, and design impasses.
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