M.A.S.H.: An Analytical Framework for Idea Generation and Evaluation

David A. Ringholz,
Georgia Institute of Technology

The mechanics, aesthetics, sustainability, and human factors (M.A.S.H.) mnemonic is a useful framework for generating, tracking, and objectively evaluating innovative ideas. M.A.S.H encompasses the fundamental components of successful design. These essential elements are often underdeveloped in student design
concepts and subsequently require bolstering throughout the process. For a given problem, M.A.S.H can be implemented as a useful brainstorming tool, allowing students, educators, and project mangers to filter out extraneous ideas while maintaining sufficient depth. M.A.S.H can also be successfully implemented
as an objective measure of a concept’s performance. Using a rating system based on the M.A.S.H. mnemonic, individuals can readily identify strengths and weaknesses of a given design concept. This system supports an individualized design process, and allows students to develop the vocabulary to articulate and compare complex concepts.

Introduction
In the classroom, it is often challenging to find new ways to approach and present complex material. This is particularly true in design education, where innovation is highly valued and often required. A student developing a design for a new product has to successfully resolve multiple variables simultaneously, while refining their own communication and idea generation skills. This process is highly individualized, depending on the student and the product. The complexity is compounded for the educator who has to manage and evaluate eighteen different students designing eighteen different products. The M.A.S.H. mnemonic is a useful framework for generating, tracking, and objectively evaluating innovative ideas. M.A.S.H. encompasses the fundamental components of successful design: mechanics, aesthetics, sustainability, and human factors. These essential elements are often underdeveloped in student design concepts and subsequently require bolstering throughout the process. For a given problem, M.A.S.H. can be implemented as a useful brainstorming tool, allowing students, educators, and project mangers to filter out extraneous ideas while maintaining sufficient depth. M.A.S.H. can also be successfully implemented as an objective measure of a concept’s performance. Using a rating system based on the M.A.S.H. mnemonic, individuals can readily identify strengths and weaknesses of a given design concept. This system supports an individualized design process and allows
students to develop the vocabulary to articulate and compare complex concepts.

There are numerous popular tools available for managing the creative process (Harris 2002), for designers and non-designers alike. Synectics (Gordon 1961), mapping, and diagramming tools are useful for identifying potentially productive relationships between disparate variables or factors. M.A.S.H. analysis is most closely aligned with techniques of attribute listing and morphological analysis (Zwicky 1969, Ritchey 2002.) When used together these techniques provide a framework for listing and tracking a product’s characteristics, then exploring the opportunities created by combining them in unusual ways. Like these approaches, the M.A.S.H. process values diversity, supports divergent points of view, and prompts multiple solutions to the same problem. Unlike the larger scope of planning processes, the M.A.S.H. tool emphasizes implementation at a scale that allows an individual to evaluate the efficacy of design changes relative to other important variables, and includes a vocabulary for generating and evaluating aesthetic elements.

>>Read the peer-reviewed paper here (PDF)

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