Research from behavioral psychology and experimental economics asserts that individuals construct preferences on a case-by-case basis when called to make a decision. A common, implicit assumption in engineering design is that user preferences exist a priori. Thus, preference elicitation methods used in design decision making can lead to preference inconsistencies across elicitation scenarios. This paper offers a framework for understanding preference inconsistencies, within and across individual users. We give examples of three components of this new framework: comparative, internal, and external inconsistencies across users. The examples demonstrate the impact of inconsistent preference construction on common engineering and marketing design methods, including discrete choice analysis, modeling stated vs. revealed preferences, and the Kano method and thus QFD. Exploring and explaining preference inconsistencies produces new understandings of the relationship between user and product.

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