Design by Analogy

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What is Design by Analogy?

Design by Analogy is the process of developing solutions for design problems by the mapping of attributes, relations and purposes that a source problem or situation may share (or at least partially share) with an existing target solution or situation).

Why Design by Analogy?

It helps us generate creative ideas that are novel and useful. 

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Process Phase



30 mins



Pen, Paper

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Method Card Reference

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Identify keywords

  • That represent the opportunity
    • One word or short phrase

    • Expressed as functions, activities, emotions​, experiences, etc.


Ideate and Align

  • Look at other domains, like in nature, or other industries or scenarios

  • Align relational structure of the analogy and the opportunity based on their commonalities

  • Use these tools to help:

    • Analogous Inspiration

      • Taps on memories of one's own experiences or by immersing oneself in other settings​

    • Word Tree​​​

      • Re-represents problem or opportunity (key words) with related words with varied specificity

    • Ask Nature

      • Biomimetic database which Inspires innovators with biological phenomena

    • TRIZ

      • Theory of Inventive Problem Solving

    • SCAMPER (Synectics)

      • A mnemonic containing 7 sets of questions to probe idea generation

  • For more ideas, iterate back to Step 1, looking out and re-representing your opportunity with ​different keywords


Make and apply inferences

  • Mapping them ​from the analogy to the opportunity

Best Practices



Consider opportunity and keywords at different levels of specificity so as to broaden the solution space.


On identifying keywords, pick action verbs followed by an object that it acts upon so as to enhance idea generation stimuli


Demo Video

This video gives you a walk-through on the steps involved in Design by Analogy.


Here are various examples of Design by Analogy.



  1. Moreno Grandas, D. P., Blessing, L., Yang, M., & Wood, K. (2015). The potential of design-by-analogy methods to support product, service and product service systems idea generation. In DS 80-5 Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 15) Vol 5: Design Methods and Tools-Part 1, Milan, Italy, 27-30.07. 15 (pp. 093-104).

  2. Moreno, D. P., Hernandez, A. A., Yang, M. C., Otto, K. N., Hölttä-Otto, K., Linsey, J. S., ... & Linden, A. (2014). Fundamental studies in Design-by-Analogy: A focus on domain-knowledge experts and applications to transactional design problems. Design Studies, 35(3), 232-272.

  3. Linsey, J. S., Markman, A. B., & Wood, K. L. (2012). Design by analogy: a study of the WordTree method for problem re-representation. Journal of Mechanical Design, 134(4), 041009.

  4. Moreno, D. P., Yang, M. C., Hernández, A. A., Linsey, J. S., & Wood, K. L. (2015). A step beyond to overcome design fixation: a design-by-analogy approach. In Design Computing and Cognition'14 (pp. 607-624). Springer, Cham.

  5. Camburn, Bradley A., Jan M. Auernhammer, Karen Hui En Sng, Paul J. Mignone, Ryan M. Arlitt, K. Blake Perez, Zack Huang, Subarna Basnet, Lucienne T. Blessing, and Kristin L. Wood. "Design Innovation: A Study of Integrated Practice." In ASME 2017 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference (IDETC), pp. V007T06A031-V007T06A031. American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 2017.

  6. Teo, K., Wee, Y., Swee, A., Altybayeva, A., Gopal, M., Kamiso, N., Foo, D., Lauff, C., Wood, K.L., “Design Innovation (DI) Learning Modules,” SUTD-MIT International Design Centre (IDC), SUTD, Singapore,, 2018.

  7. Innovation Inspired by Nature. (n.d.). Retrieved from