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Lost in Translation: Examining the complex relationship between prototyping and communication

S. Krishnakumar, C. Berdanier, C. McComb, and J. Menold
2021, Journal of Mechanical Design

Prototyping plays a pivotal role in the engineering design process. Prototypes represent physical or digital manifestations of design ideas, and as such act as effective communication tools for designers. While the benefits of prototyping are well-documented in research, the fundamental ways in which the construction of a prototype affects designers’ reflection on and evaluation of their design outcomes and processes are not well understood. The relationships between prototypes, designers’ communication strategies, and recollection of design processes is of particular interest in this work, as preliminary research suggests that novice designers tend to struggle to clearly articulate the decisions made during the design process. This work serves to extend prior work and build foundational knowledge by exploring the evaluation of design outcomes and decisions, and communication strategies employed by novice designers during prototyping tasks. A controlled in situ study was conducted with 45 undergraduate engineering students. Results from qualitative analyses suggest that a number of rhetorical patterns emerged in students’ communications, suggesting that a complicated relationship exists between prototyping and communication.