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Between Worlds: Exploring the links between the tangible and intangible costs of prototypes

J. Nelson, and J. Menold
2020, Journal of Mechanical Design

Prototyping is an important part of the design process, but researchers currently have a limited understanding of how the resources invested in a prototype or designer teams’ intent for a prototype influence decision making and perceptions of a prototypes value. Prior work has shown that significant investment of time or money in design tasks can lead to design fixation, but little work has explored how these factors might impact design teams perceived value of prototypes with respect to the design process. Likewise, it is unclear how resource allocation and prototype intention effects the evolution of design team knowledge and subsequent design actions. To explore these relationships, an insitu study of prototyping tendencies was performed across two mechanical engineering design courses. Results suggest that effective design teams leveraged prototypes to uncover new design knowledge and limit uncertainty early in the design process. Importantly, this study did not find any significant relationships between the cost of a prototype in terms of money and time, and the perceived value of that prototype. Nor were any significant relationships found between costs and final design outcomes. Findings suggest that the true cost and value of a prototype with respect to design outcomes is challenging to explicitly quantify.