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USIT, for Unified Structured Inventive Thinking, is a method of solving design problems.


USIT, for Unified Structured Inventive Thinking, is a method of solving design problems. The method was developed in the Ford Motor Company’s research laboratory, headed by Ed Sickafus in the 1990s as part of a training program called “Inventive Structured Thinking.” 

Historically, USIT is linked to systematic inventive thinking SIT, elle-même liée à la TRIZ. USIT’s goal is to enable designers to invent multiple solution concepts. The key to this methodology lies in its ability to quickly establish unusual perspectives of a problematic situation.


The USIT organization chart is divided into four sections: well defined problem, closed world method, particle method, and resolution techniques. The method is not as “strict” as the flowchart defined above. It’s a frame, but you have to be able to go from one step to another, and then come back … 

Section 1: Defining the problem

It must be possible to describe the problem in the most effective way. Unfortunately, the problems are most often the result of several undesirable effects, unclear and not controllable. 

Whatever the form of the initial information, it should be described with sentences and sketches (photo, plans …).

The first step of the well-defined section of the problem includes two types of thought cues: verbal and graphic metaphors. In the rest of this section, these metaphors are simplified and improved. 

1.1 Verbal and graphical description

Verbal and graphic descriptions are made quickly to capture relevant information without seeking perfection. Most often, the result of this step will not be a unique and well-defined problem. 

1.2 Adverse effects

Verbal and graphic description is examined to look for adverse effects as much as possible. Each side effect is a problem, but not all of them will necessarily be examined. 

1.3 Select an undesirable effect

The undesirable effects are listed, categorized and one is selected : this is the problem we have to solve. It may be helpful to rework verbal and graphic descriptions to eliminate unnecessary detail or add new detail.

1.4 List objects

Make a list of objects that contain the selected problem. They should already be included in verbal and graphic descriptions. 

1.5 Minimize

The list of objects is reduced to the objects necessary to contain the problem. Pay attention to object-object contacts where the undesirable effect may be present. 

1.6 Roots Causes

To be well defined, the descriptions of a problem must contain the root causes. When not available at first, follow the following process to identify them :

A plausible USIT analysis of root causes begins with the declaration of an adverse event at its highest level. The next level contains the minimal set of objects of the problem. Each object is examined for causes contributing to the adverse reaction. Each cause is then considered as an undesirable effect and more fundamental causes are identified. Each branch is complete when an attribute is reached. The lowest-level causes are examined to identify other support attributes. These are listed under each branch. Each attribute is a plausible root cause and a point to consider for solution concepts.

Reduction to the attributes of root cause does not produce uniform results. The tool helps to reach the lowest depth. It becomes the level of work for the rest of the problem-solving exercise. The goal is an accessible depth and maximum width. 

Definition :

  • An object : An object exists by itself and may come into contact with another object with which it can support a function. An unusual but useful object is information.
  • Attribute : Attributes characterize or distinguish objects. Attributes can exist in an entire object or can be located. These are properties described by some general words: shape, elasticity, color, weight … for example. But red (quantifies color), 20 kg (quantifies weight), 50 ° Celsius are not attributes because they quantify the attribute. Gold USIT asks to get rid of these quantifiers.

1.7 Remove filters

Filters are needed to categorize and select problems, and then to classify and select solution concepts. They play no useful role in the process of innovative problem solving. USIT requires all filters to be removed from the problem-solving process. Since USIT is a pre-engineering phase of problem solving and the focus is on design solutions, no specification, dimension, numerical data or other metrics are allowed. Customer needs, business requirements, and other business-type boundary conditions are also filters to remove.

1.8 Simplify the description

Last step of this first phase, go back to the initial description to simplify it. The goal is to produce a description of the original problem, with its technical details, in a conceptual description composed of generic metaphors and images, conducive to the discovery of innovative concepts.

Section 2 : Closed World Method

Once the problem is defined, one of the two methods of analysis is the closed world method .

A well defined problem is formulated in an iterative process, described in terms of objects, attributes and if possible a single undesirable effect. Objects are reduced to a minimum number required to contain the problem.

2.1 The CW diagram

The CW diagram begins with the object selected as the most important object and placed at the top. The remaining subordinate objects are connected to the top object using functional links..

The rules

  • Functions must be desirable functions.
  • An object can only appear once in a diagram.
  • An object is subordinate if deleting its superior makes its function unnecessary.
  • An object can only initiate a function, so branching down is allowed, but branching up is not
  • If no functional connectivity exists, the object may belong to another cw diagram or simply remain alone.
  • The functional links in the diagram represent desirable links because the cw chart does not analyze the problem but the good functioning of the system.

    2.2 The OAF state

    Object-Attribute-Function statements are intended to help identify active attributes and to call attention to their fundamental connectivity to objects and functions.

Object-Attribute-Function status is intended to help identify active attributes and to call attention to their fundamental connectivity to objects and functions.

Les états O-A-F suivent le modèle suivant :

At a point of contact, we know what the objects and functions are. We need to identify the active attribute pairs, one of each object, that allow the function. Complete sentences can be used to express instructions O-A-F :

The object-A attribute interacts with the object-B attribute to (function) change / maintain the object attribute- (X).

Example: write on paper with a fountain pen with several points of contact. One concerns the pen point and the paper. The pressure of the paper interacts with the elasticity of the tip of the pen to widen the space of the pen (allowing the ink to flow).

2.3 The chart of qualitative changes

The QC chart looks at the malfunction of the system, the problem. An undesirable effect is plotted on the ordinates and the objects on the abscissa. The adverse effect is described as “worsening” in the ascending direction of the axis. A steep straight line represents the trend connecting an active attribute to an undesirable effect.

This is not a mathematical analysis : it simply indicates whether the increase of an attribute causes the increase or decrease of the undesirable effect.

A “qualitative change” occurs when the characteristic of the problem can be shifted to a zero slope. This leads to two solution concepts :

  • Produce a qualitative change by eliminating the causal attribute. 
  • Consider the characteristic of the problem as evidence that the causal attribute  works against us “and find a way to make it work for us.

Section 3 : Particle Method

The second method of analysis is the Particule method 
coming from the TRIZ and starting from the solution rather than the causes. Several final particle configurations may be possible, but one of them is selected for analysis.

3.1 The sketch of the problem

A sketch of the problematic situation is made using simple representations of the minimal set of objects. A second sketch is similar but represents the ideal solution.

Intermediate sketches are added, if necessary, to complete the logical morphing of the ideal solution to the problematic situation.

In these sketches, “particles” are added in, on, or around areas where a change is needed to make the qualitative change..

3.2 The and/or diagram

It remains to be determined how the particles achieve the desired solution. Particles are treated as if they had magical properties and can do anything that is physical, chemical, biological that has a technological meaning. The analysis proceeds from the ideal solution to the problematic situation. The details are represented in a logic diagram and / or arborescent :

The top level of the tree and / or indicates the ideal solution.

Clauses represent the different options for a qualitative change.

When examining each clause, we ask what are the particles in the sketch to make the clause in question. These are inserted in the tree and / or as Actions. 

By moving horizontally in the sketch of the problem, new actions of the particles are identified. Each action becomes columns with stock branches supporting actions. When the action branches are finished in the sketch of the problem, the resolution process is metaphorically finished. 

3.3 Annihilation and creation of particles

The properties that particles should have in case they need to be added or removed are enumerated. We then ask ourselves the following questions :

  • If they are added : when to add them, how to create them, how to put them 
  • If they must be removed : how to remove them, annihilate them

    As the process of finding solution concepts from the tree and / or tree unfolds, the actions of the imaginary particles will become Closed World object functions and their properties will become attributes. assets.

Section 4 : Resolution Technique

Six problem solving techniques are proposed. It should be noted that in the flowchart, this section is placed in the last step, so it may seem that solution concepts should not be expected until the problem analysis is completed. In fact, solutions must be considered at every stage of the process. Solution techniques are a concerted effort to apply specific approaches to uncovering other concepts that do not exist during the exercise.

Note that we first start with the “Uniqueness” tool,  last generation, then the other tools in any order.


Uniqueness is the identification of the characteristics of the problem in space (spatial uniqueness) and in time (temporal uniqueness)) :

      • LSpatial uniqueness focuses on the locations of functions. By examining the sketch of the problem, we look for object-object contact points where several functions are present. We then look for the possibility of separating them or, on the contrary, linking them together. 
      • Time uniqueness focuses on enabling / disabling the function. A simple timeline showing functions as rectangles only when functions are active is very informative.

Example :

a soft seal leaked. The overlapping functions, namely seal and flex, have been separated to solve the problem.


Dimensionality focuses on attributes. From the graph of the qualitative changes, we will activate and deactivate the attributes in different places and times. 

Example: Looking at distant and near objects through glasses involves looking through the upper and lower parts of the lens. By activating the “focal length ” attribute at different degrees in different locations of the lens, the concept of continuously variable lens and focal length can be found.


Pluralization focuses on the multiplication and division of objects to obtain new objects with different uses. Closed world objects can be multiplied to create as many copies as you want (to infinity). 

In pluralization, objects can also be divided into parts and parts used differently. The parts can be divided to infinity (think about the molecules). 

Example: A luminescent panel placed along a road in a turn serves as a warning at a point. Dozens of them can keep the information going all the way. 


Distribution focuses on functions. Using the CW chart, we move a function to a different pair of objects. We observe the new situation what that implies. In other words, what should the attributes of the object do now to support the function ?

Example: When drawing in pencil, the hand holds the wooden handle, the wooden handle contains the mine, and the mine marks the paper. If the function of holding the pencil lead is moved from the wooden handle to the paper, the concept of carbon paper is created. 


Transduction suggests thinking of paths from one object to another involving strings of one or more Attribute-Function-Attribute links. This is effective when the initial and final attributes are obvious, but their functional connectivity is not. Inserting another link can solve the problem. Channels can also be built with additional objects.

Example: Removing spider webs with a brush forms a sticky deposit of webs on the brush that can be difficult to remove. The state of the OAF is then as follows: The stickiness of the spider web interacts with the chemical affinity of the brush to adhere, forming a brush coated with spiderweb. The bonding function can be solved by separating the surfaces. How can this be done? It comes to mind to insert an object that can be glued to the canvas on one side and not the other – a coating that has no chemical affinity with the brush. For example, a dust of small particles could be blown onto the strip, making its exposed surface non-sticky. This concept of solution introduces a third object that is not in the closed world. To stay in the closed world, the “dust” must come from its objects – the brush probably has non-sticky parts, such as its handle. Therefore, divide the handle into several parts and grind a dust. This USIT design solution could be transformed into a real product with a brush containing a reserve of talc in its handle and a simple mechanism to dust it on a band before passing the band on the brush.


Generation as a solution technique revisits each solution concept already found and uses it as a model to generate new ideas.

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