Prior studies on design ideation have demonstrated the efficacy of using patents as stimuli for concept generation. However, the following questions remain: (a) From which part of the large patent database can designers identify stimuli? (b) What are their implications on ideation outcomes? This research aims to answer these questions through a design experiment of searching and identifying patent stimuli to generate new concepts of spherical rolling robots. We position the identified patent stimuli in the home, near and far fields defined in the network of patent technology classes, according to the network’s community structure and the knowledge proximity of the stimuli to the spherical rolling robot design. Significant findings are: designers are most likely to find patent stimuli in the home field, whereas most patent stimuli are identified in the near field; near-field patents stimulate the most concepts, which exhibit a higher average novelty; combined home- and far-field stimuli are most beneficial for high concept quality. These findings offer insights on designers’ preferences in search for patent stimuli and the influence of stimulation distance on ideation outcomes. The findings will also help guide the development of a computational tool for the search of patents for design inspiration.
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