Enabling multi-modal search for inspirational design stimuli using deep learning

Kwon E, Huang F, and Goucher-Lambert K. 2022. Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing (2022).


Inspirational stimuli are known to be effective in supporting ideation during early-stage design. However, prior work has predominantly constrained designers to using text-only queries when searching for stimuli, which is not consistent with real-world design behavior where fluidity across modalities (e.g., visual, semantic, etc.) is standard practice. In the current work, we introduce a multi-modal search platform that retrieves inspirational stimuli in the form of 3D-model parts using text, appearance, and function-based search inputs. Computational methods leveraging a deep-learning approach are presented for designing and supporting this platform, which relies on deep-neural networks trained on a large dataset of 3D-model parts. This work further presents the results of a cognitive study (n = 21) where the aforementioned search platform was used to find parts to inspire solutions to a design challenge. Participants engaged with three different search modalities: by keywords, 3D parts, and user-assembled 3D parts in their workspace. When searching by parts that are selected or in their workspace, participants had additional control over the similarity of appearance and function of results relative to the input. The results of this study demonstrate that the modality used impacts search behavior, such as in search frequency, how retrieved search results are engaged with, and how broadly the search space is covered. Specific results link interactions with the interface to search strategies participants may have used during the task. Findings suggest that when searching for inspirational stimuli, desired results can be achieved both by direct search inputs (e.g., by keyword) as well as by more randomly discov- ered examples, where a specific goal was not defined. Both search processes are found to be important to enable when designing search platforms for inspirational stimuli retrieval.