Across Design: Comparing Design and Service Processes

Companies across a range of sectors are undergoing a shift from product delivery to through-life service support. These sectors are by no means homogeneous, yet tools and techniques must be developed that support this emerging shift across a variety of sectors.

The research challenge lies in describing, representing and comparing design and service processes within and across different sectors so as to understand patterns of decision-making behaviours, information use as well as meaningful transfers of best practises.


The research motivation stems from a lack of a comparative understanding across different design sectors in relation to design and service processes and decision-making behaviours. To facilitate the development of tools and techniques to support product-service delivery it is first necessary to represent these processes and compare them so as to understand their general and specific needs. In doing so, we may also identify information requirements as well as a tool or technique's scope of applicability relative to each industry sector.


  • The aim of this research is to describe design and service processes andidentify their similarities and differences both within and across theaerospace and construction sectors. Our main objectives include to : Identify contextual variables and sector characteristics such as driversand barriers so as to enable pertinent cross sector comparisons.
  • Describe design and service processes and decision-making within and acrosssectors.
  • Identify best or good practice and lessons learned across sectors.
  • Compare processes and decision making so as to identify patterns, i.e. recurrentchunks of behaviour.
  • Develop guidelines for design and service support identifying what informationshould be captured, for which beneficiaries, based on what industries and servicescenarios, i.e., what, for whom and in what context.


The method is essentially exploratory. Investigations mobilise descriptive and explanatory case studies and cross-sectoral comparisons. Research methods are therefore tailored to the nature of sector interactions and adjusted in accordance with the degree of detail undertaken within each case study.

More generally, the methodology is based on embedded literature reviews, interviews with multiple expert stakeholders and analysis of process representations with an emphasis on records of decision-making. The method provides: (i) depth – via detailed case studies in the aerospace and construction sectors (carried out in the EDC), and (ii) breath by linking to other case studies of the Knowledge and Information Management project.


Current investigations are developing conceptual, theoretical and empirical understandings, by way of:

  1. Conducting literature reviews encompassing existing decision-making theories and analysing concepts surrounding decision-making behaviour as appropriate to the design domain.
  2. Identification of the types of information created and retained throughout the life-cycle of aircrafts and buildings so as to classify the sources of evidence in design and service practices and decision-making.
  3. Investigating the information needs of stakeholders targeting the type of information kept for potential product reuse
  4. Identifying the occurrence of continuous decision-making across the design and service processes.


The project brings together the construction and aerospace industries across supply chains. Because they are by no means homogeneous this research aims to describe their design and service processes, i.e., the ways products are designed, maintained, upgraded and renewed.

Products such as aircraft and buildings have complex design and through life processes.. Once a product is designed and manufactured/ constructed they are then used, serviced and maintained. Experience from use (incl. service and maintenance) needs to be fed into the design of product upgrades or the continuation of some capability of the product; and finally experience gained from upgrade/ capability continuation may also be fed into the design of new products. Distributed across this cycle are three distinct through-life scenarios with very different information needs, which range from the maintenance of specific products to continuation of a capability:Product

  - Maintenance – how to maintain a product over its life cycle?

  - Product Upgrade – how to upgrade to meet new design requirements or eliminate design mistakes and errors?

  - Capability Continuation – in the future how to design a new product with the same or similar capability?

From this perspective, this project seeks to develop an understanding of how these through-life scenarios play out for different types of products and in different sectors so as to inform information requirements for design and service practices. An important part of this lies in understanding how decisions are made across different industries and sectors.


Funded by the Cambridge-MIT Institute.

Partner support provided by:

This research is part of the EPSRC sponsored Knowledge and Information Management Project.

Selected Publications

  • Eckert, C.M., Blackwell, A.F., Bucciarelli, L.L. and Earl, C.F. (2010). Shared conversations across design. Design Issues 26(3), 27-39.
  • Blackwell, A.F., Eckert, C.M., Bucciarelli, L.L. and Earl, C.F. (2009). Witnesses to design: A phenomenology of comparative design. Design Issues 25(1), 36-47.
  • Earl, C., Eckert, C.M., Bucciarelli, L., Whitney, D., Knight, T., Stacey,M., Blackwell, A., Macmillan, S. and Clarkson, P.J. (2005) 'Comparative studyof design with application to engineering design' in 15th InternationalConference on Engineering Design (ICED'05), Melbourne, Australia, 335-336
  • Eckert, C.M., Earl, C., Stacey, M., Bucciarelli, L.L. and Clarkson, P.J.(2005) 'Risk across design domains' in 15th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED'05), Melbourne, Australia, 361-362
  • Stacey, M.K., Eckert, C.M., Earl, C.F., Bucciarelli, L. and Clarkson, P.J.(2002) 'A comparative programme for design research' in Common Ground Conference, London, UK