Research Vision

Metaphors have successfully been used by new product development and design teams to help frame the design situation and communicate new products to stakeholders. Yet, the process of finding a compelling metaphor often resembles ‘stumbling upon’ it or a ‘flash of insight’ from a team member.

We develop meta4acle: a metaphor exploration tool for design that suggests possible metaphors to make the process one of ‘seeking out’ than ‘stumbling upon’ an effective metaphor.

The tool takes data about the project in the form of a title, domain and key associations required of the metaphor and returns suggestions from a database of possible metaphor sources.

Peer Reviewed Publication

Meta4acle: Generating compelling metaphors for design

Kolb, E., Hey, J., Agogino, A., Sebastian, H-J., Proceedings of American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME), IDETC/CIE Design Theory and Methodology Conference, August 3-6, New York, NY, USA, 2008.


Erik M. W. Kolb

meta4acle is Mr. Kolb’s doctoral research project. He started the topic with his business administration
masteral thesis. He currently pursues a doctorate in
Business Administration at the RWTH Aachen
University, Germany. He received a Diplom in
Mechanical Engineering as well as a Diplom in
Business Administration from the RWTH Aachen
University. He was also a visiting fellow to the MIT
and to the UC Berkeley in 2006, 2007 and 2008,

Learn more about Erik Kolb or his research. Contact him via erik.kolb(at)

Dr. Jonathan Hey

Dr. Hey started to work for the design company jump associates in June 2008. Nevertheless, he still contributes actively to the meta4acle project. He advised Mr. Kolb during his Business Administration diploma thesis in Berkeley in 2007. Dr. Hey received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, where he researched on design and innovation.

Learn more about Jonathan Hey or his research. Contact him via jono(at)

Prof. Hans-Juergen Sebastian

Professor Sebastian is the director of the Deutsche Post Endowed Chair of Optimization of Distribution Networks at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany. His research foci are: operations research, logistics and supply chain.

Learn more about Hans-Juergen Sebastian and his research.

Prof. Alice Agogino

Professor Agogino is the director of the Berkeley Expert Systems Technology (BEST) lab at the University of California at Berkeley in the USA. Her research interests are: intelligent learning systems; information retrieval and data mining; multiobjective and strategic product design; nonlinear optimization; probabilistic modeling; intelligent control and manu-facturing; sensor validation, fusion and diagnostics; wireless sensor networks; multimedia and computer-aided design; design databases; design theory and methods; MEMS Synthesis and CAD; artificial intelligence and decision and expert systems; gender equity.

Learn more about Alice Agogino and her research.

Student Researchers

Michael Reinartz (current)

Mr. Reinartz is a graduate student at the RWTH Aachen University. He will achieve the degree Magister Artium in Philosophy, English Linguistics and Literature in 2009. His major fields of study and research are Practical Philosophy, Construction Grammar, Poetry Analysis and Information Structure.

Melanie Said (2008)

Studying industrial engineering at the RWTH Aachen University, she will graduate in 2009.

Urszula Kokot (2008)

Web Implementation

Bjoern Grossmann | Cokron Innovations

Graphic Design/Layout

Nina Witschonke | nw design

Farina Pomaska

Partner Universities and Labs

RWTH Aachen University/Germany. Often recognized as the best technical university in Germany. It offers an incomparable variety of technical labs and applied research.

University of California at Berkeley/USA. The only public university which has a front to top private schools in the US. Among other factors, its uniqueness is reflected in the broad variety of disciplines from physics, economy, chemistry and linguistics to engineering.

Deutsche Post Endowed Chair of Optimization of Distribution Networks/Germany. Research in the laboratory focuses on problems of Operations Research, Logistics and Supply Chain Management. It is headed by Professor Hans-Juergen Sebastian.

Berkeley Expert Systems Technology (BEST) Laboratory/USA. The BEST lab is an Artificial Intelligence, Expert Systems and Information Technologies Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at University of California at Berkeley, directed by Professor Alice Agogino.