Intelligent computer-aided design (CAD) emulates the human activity of design so that production planning, decision making, and inventive design can be performed by computers. Based on the history of human experience in engineering design, a formalized and systematic approach to design should include procedures from (1) conceptual design, (2) layout design, and (3) numerical optimization. The highest level within such a system should be responsible for specifying and symbolically optimizing skeleton structures of generic (nonspecific) elements within the design process that are eventually to be specified uniquely (pinned down) and ultimately optimized numerically. Planning plays a key role in such a system. Planning has been utilized as a tool for process organization within the knowledge domains of chemical engineering, electrical engineering, manufacturing, as well as for general problem formulation and solution. State estimation, subtask scheduling, and constraint propagation have been found to be factors of prime importance in this type of problem. Problems associated with the implementation of a planning strategy within a knowledge-based system for mechanical engineering design optimization are discussed. A hypothesis for planning is put forth and examined within the context of a model of the mechanical design optimization process. An example that demonstrates the applicability of this approach to mechanical power transmission design is considered.