Eliciting informative user opinions from online reviews is a key success factor for innovative product design and development. The unstructured, noisy, and verbose nature of user reviews, however, often complicate large-scale need finding in a format useful for designers without losing important information. Recent advances in abstractive text summrization has created the opportunity to systematically generate opinion summaries from online reviews to inform the early stages of product design and development. However, two knowledge gaps hinder the applicability of opinion summarization methods in practice. First, there is a lack of formal mechanisms to guide the generative process with respect to different categories of product attributes and user sentiments. Second, the annotated training datasets needed for supervised training of abstractive summarization models are often difficult and costly to create. This article addresses these gaps by (1) devising an efficient computational framework for abstractive opinion summarization guided by specific product attributes and sentiment polarities, and (2) automatically generating a synthetic training dataset that captures various degrees of granularity and polarity. A hierarchical multi-instance attribute-sentiment inference mode is developed for assembling a high-quality synthetic dataset, which is utilized to fine-tune a pre-trained language model for abstractive summary generation. Numerical experiments conducted on a large dataset scraped from three major e-Commerce retail store for apparel and footwear products indicate the performance, feasibility, and potentials of the developed framework. Several directions are provided for future exploration in the area of automated opinion summarization for user-centered design.

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