Scenario Based Product Design

PhD candidate:

ir. M. Tideman (


prof. dr. ir. F.J.A.M. van Houten (


Design, Production & Management


January 2004 - December 2007


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Creating good products is not an easy thing to do. There are usually many different people who have an interest in the product. People such as the user, of course, but also marketing managers, production engineers, maintenance workers, recycling specialists, and government representatives, just to name a few. Each of these stakeholders has his own ideas and agenda, which may conflict with the ideas and agendas of others. Designers have an extremely tough job trying to satisfy the differing needs and desires of all stakeholders. Moreover, it is very difficult for designers to determine what those needs and desires are in the first place - especially when dealing with complex products and/or products that don’t exist yet. To make matters worse, designers are always confined by time and cost constraints.

Through the years, various methods and tools have been developed that support designers in dealing with these difficulties. But, so far, these methods and tools have only been a band-aid on a wound. Design has essentially remained a process in which designers are forced to make assumptions about what other people want. This is especially true when designing products that are new, that are complex, and that involve many different stakeholders.

The goal of this research was the development of a new product design method that adequately supports designers in determining stakeholders’ preferences and finding the best compromise between those preferences. A method that gives stakeholders insight into the consequences of their decisions and enables them to express their preferences. A method that provides designers with the information necessary to create a good design. A method that specifically supports the design of products that are new, that are complex, and that involve many different stakeholders.

The design method that was developed is based on the use of scenarios, virtual reality simulation and gaming principles. The method gives all stakeholders a proactive role in the design process. All stakeholders are allowed to create their own designs and immediately test these in a wide variety of scenarios.

While applying the new method, the design process is split into two separate phases. The first phase is aimed at developing a design environment that is a valid representation of the world relevant to the product, including the technology that may be usefully applied to the product. This design environment enables a stakeholder to generate designs and scenarios, and to realistically experience the behavior of those designs in the scenarios. The second phase of the design process is aimed at specifying a good design. Representatives from all stakeholder groups are invited for design sessions in which they must iteratively work towards a personal “most attractive design”. The generated information is used to specify a compromise between the preferences of all stakeholders.

The new product design method was evaluated by applying it to a design case: the design of a lane change support system. This is a product that supports car drivers during lane change maneuvers. The design process that emerged was analyzed by testing hypotheses about the new product design method’s viability and the degree to which it fulfills its functions.

Figure 1: The initial design environment

It was found that the new product design method is viable in the sense that people understand their role in the design process, that they are able to perform the specified activities, and that these activities yield actual results. It was also found that the new product design method fulfils its functions in the sense that it stimulates and enables the designer to create a consistent image of everybody’s preferences and to reach a compromise between all those preferences.

An analysis of the impact of the case-specific circumstances on the assessment process revealed that the findings are generally applicable. The new product design method can be successfully applied to the design of all products that have a certain level of modularity or configurability. It should, however, be technically possible to create interfaces for stakeholders to generate candidate designs and test environments, and to offer simulations of those designs in those environments such that stakeholders can make a reliable assessment of the designs’ properties.

The added value of applying the new product design method will not always be worth the investment. It costs a significant amount of time and money to create a design environment, perform sessions with stakeholders, and continuously assure that all information is consistent. The chances of getting a “return on investment” generally increase the less familiar designers are to the product, the more complex the product is, and the more stakeholders are involved in the process.

The investment will certainly be returned when the new product design method is used to design products that should be “first time right” in order to not endanger users and to not affect the company’s image. Products such as, for example, a lane change support system. If such a product doesn’t work properly when it is introduced on the market, the driver’s safety is endangered and the manufacturer’s market position is affected. Therefore, for companies such as automotive manufacturers, using the new product design method would be worth the investment.

Figure 2: The lane change support system configurator

Figure 3: Experiencing a traffic scenario