Success is highly dependent on the ability of a company to efficiently produce optimal designs. In order to achieve this companies must minimize time to market and possess the ability to make fully informed decisions at the early phase of the design process. Such decisions may include the choice of component and suppliers, as well as cost and maintenance considerations. Computer modeling and electronic catalogues are becoming the preferred medium for the selection and design of mechanical components. In utilizing these techniques, the designer demands the capability to identify, evaluate and select mechanical components both quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitative decisions generally encompass performance data included in the formal catalogue representation. It is in the area of qualitative decisions that the use of what the authors call 'Informal Information' is of crucial importance. Thus, 'Informal Information' must often be incorporated into the selection process and selection systems. This would enable more informed decisions to be made quicker, without the need for information retrieval via discussion with colleagues in the design environment. This paper provides an overview of the use of electronic information in the design of mechanical systems, including a discussion of limitations of current technology. The importance of Informal Information is discussed and the requirements for association with web based electronic catalogues are developed. This system is based on a flexible XML schema and enables the storage, classification and recall of Informal Information packets. Furthermore, a strategy for the inclusion of Informal Information is proposed, and an example case is used to illustrate the benefits.© (2001) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.