Change as little as possible: Creativity in design by modification

Claudia M. Eckert, Martin Stacey, David Wyatt, Pam Garthwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


While design research has concentrated on creativity in the early phases of design and on creativity in very open-ended design tasks, in practice many design projects concern the modification or incremental development of existing systems to meet new needs and restrictions. Some projects adopt a process of defining, prioritising and propagating requirements and constraints that bypasses conceptual design as it is conventionally understood. However, incremental development requires creative design to deal with multiple conflicting requirements, both in early design and in solving later local problems: the challenge lies in finding a satisfactory solution while avoiding a cascade of changes to the rest of the system. This paper draws on two case studies, one of the design of a new generation of diesel engines and one of the refurbishment of a hospital ward, to argue that in these domains creativity is required to find designs that change as little as possible and meet the given requirements with minimal effort.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-360
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Engineering Design
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • constraints
  • creativity
  • design processes
  • empirical studies
  • engineering change
  • refurbishment


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