Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


John Gershenson


Traditional engineering design methods are based on Simon's (1969) use of the concept function, and as such collectively suffer from both theoretical and practical shortcomings. Researchers in the field of affordance-based design have borrowed from ecological psychology in an attempt to address the blind spots of function-based design, developing alternative ontologies and design processes. This dissertation presents function and affordance theory as both compatible and complimentary. We first present a hybrid approach to design for technology change, followed by a reconciliation and integration of function and affordance ontologies for use in design. We explore the integration of a standard function-based design method with an affordance-based design method, and demonstrate how affordance theory can guide the early application of function-based design. Finally, we discuss the practical and philosophical ramifications of embracing affordance theory's roots in ecology and ecological psychology, and explore the insights and opportunities made possible by an ecological approach to engineering design. The primary contribution of this research is the development of an integrated ontology for describing and designing technological systems using both function- and affordance-based methods.