International Space Settlement Design Competition
International Space Settlement Design Competition

Establishing Design Requirements

Practitioners of engineering design learn early in their careers that successful designs respond to requirements. Although the Space Settlement Design Competition Request for Proposal (RFP) lists the customer's basic requirements for your team's space settlement design, there are a lot of implied requirements in the requests for a "pleasant living and working environment" and "a comfortable modern community environment". Your team needs to think about what the judges will be expecting--think of your space settlement as a place where people will raise their families and build their careers, and think of the judges as the people who need to be convinced that they will want to live there. The better your team's design proposal shows a space settlement that will be a pleasant place to live, the more likely your team is to win an invitation to the Finalist Competition. Participants will also come up with better designs if they develop an appreciation for why the RFP includes what it does.

The design requirements for space settlements derive from the simple question "what do people need that doesn't exist in space?"; the simple answer to this question is "just about everything".

During the Finalist Competition, we use a tool to help participants appreciate just how much "everything" really is. The "BRAINSTORMING" SESSION is a process that gets a group of people with knowledge about the problem into a room, sets their minds free to release any thought that occurs to them, and captures those thoughts for further analysis. Typically, brainstorming sessions are used in industry to solve problems. For Space Settlement Design Competitions, this is a very useful technique for helping participants identify the problems that their designs must solve.

Brainstorming

For Brainstorming to work, very rigid rules must be established. There are three distinct parts to the process:

This process may be iterated by doing further sessions to develop detailed ideas that will make a concept feasible.

Brainstorming has gone out of favor in industry, mostly because people usually only do the first step, and not the critical follow-up exercises. The first step is what's fun, but the ideas are only cemented and made useful through analysis and documentation.

The idea-generating session itself can have some pitfalls, too. If the following rules are followed, however, there is no better tool for rapidly developing a wide-ranging collection of creative ideas:

It is essential that every idea be written, no matter how dumb, and that no idea be criticized during the idea-generating session. Dumb ideas that occur to creative people act like dams; until the dumb idea is released, it will stop the flow of more creative ideas. By not allowing criticism, there is no stigma attached to announcing a dumb idea, and it can be removed during the second step of the process. Oddly, release and documentation of a dumb idea will frequently ignite a creative spark in another participant, and may lead to the idea that provides the best solution to the problem. These sessions can get pretty frisky, and it is generally accepted that an optimum size for a Brainstorming group is between 10 and 15 (you want everybody to contribute ideas; with a smaller group, nobody has an excuse for not speaking up). If there is extra room, split the participants into two groups, have them run separate Brainstorming sessions, and compare the results.

Problem Statement

For Space Settlement Design Competitions, we generally conduct Brainstorming sessions with the following problem statement:

What does a community of humans need to stay alive, healthy, and happy in space?

We are constrained for time during Space Settlement Design Competitions, and will usually only run the idea-generating session for 10 to 20 minutes. During that time, it is not unusual for the scribe(s) to get a list of ideas six or seven hand-written transparency pages long. Sessions based on this problem statement can easily last for 30 to 45 minutes (sessions in industry often run for one and a half to two hours). The facilitator can keep the session going by asking questions that will direct thinking processes out of a rut, perhaps coming back to a thought pattern that didn't appear to have played itself out, or steering thinking along a different track. If participants have been concentrating on the "healthy" part of the question, the facilitator may suggest that the question also includes "happy". The facilitator may remind participants that the question includes the word "community". Sometimes, just the reminder that you want participants to "speak up!" or "tell me ANYTHING that comes into your head!" will get the ideas flowing again.

When you analyze the list your team ends up with, you will find what we have found in dozens of experiences with Brainstorming on this problem statement: the first few minutes will concentrate on "technical" needs, but the majority of the ideas would apply to any community of humans anywhere. The Brainstorming session ends up being a terrific tool for reminding participants that people have the same needs no matter where they live, and we must make sure that our personal needs are met by the technical design. Incidentally, no significance should be attached during analysis of your list to specifics of the order in which the ideas were written.

When you finish categorizing, fleshing out, and documenting the ideas that come from your Brainstorming session, you will have a set of requirements from which to start developing design details, especially those regarding interior design and general habitability. The customers' RFP defines minimum requirements for the project; winning teams both meet the requirements and develop a design in which the customer would like to live.