The early information-gathering stages of product design prove problematic for frontier design environments, or situations unfamiliar to the designer. This research provides a framework for gathering, documenting, and acting upon contextual information including the customer, market, and product usage context. This framework is validated through an empirical product study which shows that a chosen functional family of products, designed to fulfill the same primary function, exhibit significant differences in both customer needs and product requirement design targets. These differences are convincingly accounted for in terms of product usage context factors identified by the research. The functional family of “broadcast light and allow mobility” is selected, corresponding to a wide variety of candle and lantern-type products. It is shown that the products suited for long distance backpackers, for example, exhibit significantly lower volume and weight than the products intended for other usage contexts. The results presented provide a starting point to extend this research to other product domains, and support the future development of methods and tools equipping design engineers to successfully design products for frontier design environments.

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