How to Recognize an Immutable Mobile When You Find One: Translations on Innovation and Design

How to Recognize an Immutable Mobile When You Find One: Translations on Innovation and Design

Fernando Abreu Gonçalves (CEG-IST, Portugal) and José Figueiredo (Technical University of Lisbon, Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/jantti.2010040103
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Research involved with Actor-Network Theory (ANT) application in engineering domains often crosses through its fundamentals. In fact, exploring trends that envisage ANT as a paradigm that can prove valid in the engineering design field, researchers sometimes enrol in discussions that drive them to its roots. Obligatory Passage Points (OPP) and Immutable Mobiles (IM) are two of the fundamental concepts that need to be revisited. These concepts are critical to understanding innovation in Actor-Networks, especially for the part of IMs. In the pursuit of that understanding, the authors opt to entangle ANT and engineering design and explore a framework based on Programs of Action where actors are represented as taxonomies of competences. These actors are hybrids but, when human, they are mainly engineers engaged in the scope planning and resource management in engineering design projects or processes. This article exercises and develops a constructive process towards a methodology to approach innovation in engineering design. This research is useful for the first stages of the project design process and, in a broader way, to the full cycle of the engineering design process.
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Engineering Design

Ralph Ford and Chris Coulston (2007) defines the Engineering Design domain as a sequence of steps (with iterations) that can be grouped into a process phase (Problem Identification, Requirements Specification, and Concept Generation) and a technological phase (Detailed Design, Prototyping and Construction, System Integration, System Test, Delivery & Acceptance, and Maintenance & Upgrade), as we depict in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

A comprehensive view of the engineering design process - adapted from (Ford & Chris Coulston, 2007)


Project Management can be seen as an engineering process where managing and defining scope acquires special importance. Being sometimes poor listeners and too much confident in the possibilities of technology, we, engineers, need to be aware that it is from the quality of these first phases of project management/and engineering design processes that much is earned to the final quality of the product to be designed and developed.

The process phase (design) is critical to the definition of the scope of any engineering design project and the view that the design process is not only a technological endeavor but also a social one has already invaded even the most pure technological domains (Cagan et al., 2001). These authors propose a method that intending to manage the “fuzzy front end of product development” recognizes a socio-technical co-evolution of products and markets.

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