IRIS Design Lab: Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainable Design
erin_macdonald

Dr. Erin MacDonald

 

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Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Product Design, Stanford University
ASME Design Automation Committee Outstanding Young Investigator, 2012

Education

MIT Sloan School of Management, Marketing Postdoctoral Researcher & Mechanical Engineering Instructor, 2008-2009
University of Michigan, Mechanical Engineering, Ph.D., 2008
University of Michigan, Mechanical Engineering, M.S., 2004
Brown University, Materials Science and Engineering, B.S. 1998

Research Focus

                                                              

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Research projects in Dr. MacDonald's IRIS Design lab have three foci: (1) Modeling the role of the public's decisions in effective large-scale sustainability implementation; (2) Improving engineering designers' abilities to address complex customer preference for sustainability; and (3) Using data on how consumers perceive products, especially visually, to understand how products are evaluated and subsequently improve those evaluations. These foci represent three corresponding design vantage points: (1) system-level; (2) human-scale or product-level, and (3) single-decision-level, as shown in the Figure. The exploration of these different vantage points is fundamental to performing insightful design research on complex design issues, such as sustainability.

Sustainable design readily spreads across many disciplines and necessarily requires an interdisciplinary and system-based design approach. At the heart of this system is the relationship between product engineering and human behavior. The designer must include this relationship in the product's design along with other sustainability concerns such as technology advancement, life cycle assessment, policy compliance, larger societal impact, and economic viability. As behavior is difficult for engineers to quantify, it can be lost in engineering analysis. The resulting sustainable products and technologies may not be used and/or purchased, may not be as efficient as predicted, and thus may not have the beneficial impact that they were designed to have. The relationship between the sustainable product engineering and human behavior can be quantified, for example by modeling decision-making, and incorporated into engineering analysis. Often, the reformulation of the engineering system problem required to accommodate human behavior is beneficial to other elements of the design. We perform research at the intersection of analytical design methods, conceptual design methods, and decision-making theory to design successful sustainable products and energy technologies.

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