About Us

Design Frontiers Symposium: Crossing Boundaries, Creating Disciplines, Michigan Union, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, May 2011

What we do

The Optimal Design Lab is dedicated to understanding and improving the design process and the creation of designed artifacts. Our work is primarily based on the decision-making paradigm of design. We develop mathematical models to describe design alternatives and elicit design preferences, and algorithms that search the design space for the best design among all possible design options – the optimal design.

Our current research focuses on design theories and methods for large complex engineered systems, including decomposition and coordination strategies, surrogate model approximations, product platforms, and integrated artifact design and control. Using quantitative approaches to product development and informed by qualitative analysis, we study how engineering design interfaces with industrial design, art, computer science, economics, marketing, organizational and social science, and psychology. Application domains include automotive design, specifically hybrid and alternative vehicles, structural design, and consumer products. We have also studied electromagnetic design, specifically antennas, and architectural design.

Whatever term of fashion may have come upon us over time to describe our research, our commitment has remained the same: to study design as a process conducted by humans aiming at improving the human condition, and to employ a pragmatic but rigorous approach as best we know how.

A bit of history

Soon after Panos Papalambros joined the faculty at Michigan in 1979, Alex Diaz and Shapour Azarm initiated with him their doctoral work on design optimization. Over the years the group expanded and eventually adopted the Optimal DEsign (ODE) Laboratory moniker. The ODE alumni list includes former students, research staff, and visitors who spent a significant amount of time working with us. The scope of our work has also expanded over the years, as we have tried to study different aspects of design in a rigorous manner.

Our group interacts naturally and extensively with other research groups. We often need the underlying analysis models developed by different disciplines upon which we build our design decision models. In the 1980s and 1990s we worked particularly closely with the engineering research groups of Professors John Taylor, Noboru Kikuchi, Deba Dutta, and Dennis Assanis. We have been a core contributor in the systems research of the Automotive Research Center (ARC) and the General Motors Collaborative Research Laboratory (GM CRL) at UM. More recently we have been working with colleagues from the School of Art and Design, the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, the School of Business Administration, and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts — specifically the Departments of Psychology and Mathematics. Many of these interactions occur under the auspices of the Design Science Doctoral Program. We are in close contact with just about all research groups interested in design optimization around the world -- interactions we especially enjoy.