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Analytical and interpretive practices in design and new product development : evidence from the automobile industry

By Kamal Moussa Malek


Product design and development have been studied from both positivist and interpretivist paradigms. From the positivist perspective, design and product development are seen as technical transformation or production processes, which take customer requirements and existing technological possibilities as inputs and produce an objectively optimal product, one that is not influenced by the designer's preferences or biases. The result of this research is a focus on measuring the voice of the customer with "high fidelity", and on streamlining and optimizing this production process. From the intrepretivist perspective, product design and development are seen as relatively open-ended discursive processes, to which human participants from different backgrounds bring their unique worldviews and prejudices. Models of these processes are seen as metaphors intended to help people come to understanding by shedding light on and thus bridging the different worldviews, not as mathematical constructs to be optimized. In real life, empirical evidence shows that practitioners rely on a number of approaches that do not fit easily into one or the other of these paradigms. As a result, many analytical models and methodologies need to be modified to make them useful in real-world applications and, coniverscly, empirical research that accurately captures the richness and complexity of the design and development process fits uneasily in these traditional paradigms which researchers feel compelled to use. This dissertation addresses this shortcoming by developing a vocabulary for describing product design and development practices, which bridges the divide between the strictly positivist and strictly interpretivist views. The research approach used is one of theory building from case studies. The industry chosen for the case studies is the automobile industry. The thesis reports on three study sites. The first is an American manufacturer based in Detroit, known for its innovative product designs and its pioneering reliance on dedicated platform development teams. The second is the American design subsidiary of a Japanese manufacturer, one of the first to set up such a design operation in US. The third site is the Japanese design and development organization of the same manufacturer, based in a technical center outside of Tokyo. The theoretical framework presented in this dissertation, which co-evolved with the above case studies, takes the form of a taxonomy of product development practices. This taxonomy draws upon concepts from linguistics and the philosophy of language. In a first step, the distinction within linguistics between the structural sub fields (e.g., syntax and semantics) and the functional sub field of Pragmatics is used to sharpen the difference between analytical/structural practices on the one hand, and interpretive practices on the other. In a second step. two views of interpretation, one grounded in linguistics (Pragmatics. specifically). the other in the philosophical hermeneutics of Heidegger and Gadamer are used to expand the interpretive category into two, referred to as pragmatic interpretation and hermeneutic interpretation, respectively. Each of the three case studies provides a good illustration of a product development organization that relies predominantly on one of the types of practices and approaches captured by the taxonomy. The findings suggest a number of recommendations for design and product development managers and practitioners, as well as several directions for future Kamal M. Malek.Thesis (Ph.D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, 2001.Includes bibliographical references (p. 255-271)

Topics: Mechanical Engineering.
Publisher: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Year: 2001
OAI identifier:
Provided by: DSpace@MIT

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