Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical and Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Chiradeep Sen

Second Advisor

James R. Brenner

Third Advisor

Anand Balu Nellippallil

Fourth Advisor

Ashok Pandit


This thesis presents a protocol study that examines the behavioral and cognitive patterns in human designers when they describe a problem domain of engineering interest through constructing concept maps. Understanding various design problem domains usually comes in design projects before the start of the formal design process and is crucial for discovering the pain points of given scenarios and identifying opportunities for creating value to improve them. Thus, this activity relies on the entrepreneurial aspects of engineering design that leads to identifying the right design problem to solve. While concept maps have been used to examine various research questions in the past, they have never been used to understand the human behavior and cognition during this stage of opportunity identification in design. To this end, this thesis presents a protocol study. The study is divided into a pilot study involving ten participants and a main study involving twenty additional participants. In these studies, participants were tasked with creating concept maps for given problem domains. The data generated was encoded using eleven activity codes and four element codes (nodes, edges, node labels, and edge labels) at a one-second interval. In addition, patterns of forming crosslinks, propositions, temporal grouping, clustering of the elements, and the topological and thematic relations within the clusters were examined. The results shed light on the relative difficulty of conceiving and naming the concepts, relations, and distant relations between the concepts, potential designer preference in the order elements are added to the concept map. and tendency to expand the map in the form of subgraphs.