Morphological charts

Provide a structured approach to concept generation to widen the area of search for solutions to a defined design problem. Can help the team generate a complete range of alternative design solutions for a product through a systematic analysis of the form/configuration that a product or machine might take.

A morphological chart is a visual way to capture the necessary product functionality and explore alternative means and combinations of achieving that functionality. For each element of product function, there may be a number of possible solutions. The chart enables these solutions to be expressed and provides a structure for considering alternative combinations. This can enable the early consideration of the product 'architecture' through the generation and consideration of different combinations of 'sub-solutions' that have not previously been identified. Used appropriately, it can help to encourage a user driven approach to the generation of potential solution.



List product functions

List the features (or functions) that are essential to the product. The list should not be too long, but should encompass the major product functions, at a appropriate level of generalisation. Ideally, there should be no more than 10. It can be useful to list functions according to a predetermined order - most important, position in structure, energy flow, information flow. Care should be taken to list functions and not components - e.g. 'warning indicator' rather than 'bell'. Always ask 'what function is this component fulfilling?' Each function should be mutually exclusive. Possible functions for a mobile phone could include: holding, storage, dialing, display, power supply, signal reception, signal processing, sound output, sound input etc.


List the possible 'means' for each function

For each function, list the 'means' or possible solutions by which it might be achieved. Think about new ideas, as well as known solutions or components and where possible ideas should be expressed visually as well as in words. Any important characteristics of the solutions should be recorded. Try to maintain the same level of generality for each possible solution - for example, it may be beneficial to consider different power sources or perhaps it may be more relevant to just investigate different battery options. Possible means of achieving 'holding' for a mobile phone could be a stopwatch-type grip, attached to clothing, watch style, gun grip etc.


Chart functions and means & explore combinations

Draw up a chart containing all possible sub-solutions. This is the 'morphological chart' which should represent the total 'solution space' for the product - made up of combinations of sub-solutions. Try wherever possible to express all options visually. It is now possible to identify feasible combinations of sub-solutions. The total number of combinations may be very large, so they may need to be limited to the most feasible or attractive options. Name each viable combination as a potential solution for further evaluation later. An example is shown below.


morphological chart


Generating a morphological chart can be tedious and may result in a lot of solutions which may not be relevant or practical. Attention should be paid to both the soft and hard aspects of the design mix, but it can be difficult to include 'stylistic' options.


For more information, please contact:

James Moultrie


T:  +44 1223 764830

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