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Lessons Learned from Applying Design Thinking in a NASA Rapid Design Study in AeronauticsIn late 2015, NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) funded an experiment in rapid design and rapid teaming to explore new approaches to solving challenging design problems in aeronautics in an effort to cultivate and foster innovation. This report summarizes several lessons learned from the rapid design portion of the study. This effort entailed learning and applying design thinking, a human-centered design approach, to complete the conceptual design for an open-ended design challenge within six months. The design challenge focused on creating a capability to advance experimental testing of autonomous aeronautics systems, an area of great interest to NASA, the US government as a whole, and an entire ecosystem of users and developers around the globe. A team of nine civil servant researchers from three of NASA's aeronautics field centers with backgrounds in several disciplines was assembled and rapidly trained in design thinking under the guidance of the innovation and design firm IDEO. The design thinking process, while used extensively outside the aerospace industry, is less common and even counter to many practices within the aerospace industry. In this report, several contrasts between common aerospace research and development practices and design thinking are discussed, drawing upon the lessons learned from the NASA rapid design study. The lessons discussed included working towards a design solution without a set of detailed design requirements, which may not be practical or even feasible for management to ascertain for complex, challenging problems. This approach allowed for the possibility of redesigning the original problem statement to better meet the needs of the users. Another lesson learned was to approach problems holistically from the perspective of the needs of individuals that may be affected by advances in topic area instead of purely from a technological feasibility viewpoint. The interdisciplinary nature of the design team also provided valuable experience by allowing team members from different technological backgrounds to work side-by-side instead of dividing into smaller teams, as is frequently done in traditional multidisciplinary design. The team also learned how to work with qualitative data obtained primarily through the 70-plus interviews that were conducted over the course of this project, which was a sharp contrast to using quantitative data with regards to identifying, capturing, analyzing, storing, and recalling the data. When identifying potential interviewees who may have useful contributions to the design subject area, the team found great value in talking to non-traditional users and potential beneficiaries of autonomous aeronautics systems whose impact on the aeronautics autonomy ecosystem is growing swiftly. Finally, the team benefitted from using "sacrificial prototyping," which is a method of rapidly prototyping draft concepts and ideas with the intent of enabling potential users to provide significant feedback early in the design process. This contrasts the more common approach of using expensive prototypes that focus on demonstrating technical feasibility. The unique design approach and lessons learned by the team throughout this process culminated in a final design concept that was quite different than what the team originally assumed would be the design concept initially. A summary of the more usercentered final design concept is also provided.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
McGowan, Anna-Maria
(NASA Langley Research Center Hampton, VA, United States)
Bakula, Casey
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Castner, Raymond
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Date Acquired
February 3, 2017
Publication Date
January 9, 2017
Subject Category
Aircraft Design, Testing And Performance
Report/Patent Number
AIAA Paper No. 2569919
Meeting Information
Meeting: 2017 AIAA SciTech Forum
Location: Grapevine, TX
Country: United States
Start Date: January 9, 2017
End Date: January 13, 2017
Sponsors: American Inst. of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 736466.
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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