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Effects Of An Early Prototyping Experience: Can Design Fixation Be Avoided?

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

DEED Potpourri

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.445.1 - 15.445.11



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Paper Authors

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Vince Walker US Air Force Academy

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Daniel Jensen United States Air Force Academy

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Kendra Crider US Air Force Academy


Jason Weaver University of Texas, Austin

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Jason Weaver is a PhD candidate at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on energy harvesting technologies, design methodologies and the characteristics of transformation. He previously received a MS in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Brigham Young University.

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Kristin Wood University of Texas, Austin

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Dr Kristin Wood is the Cullen Trust Endowed Professor in Engineering and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Wood’s current research interests focus on product design, development, and evolution. The current and near-future objective of this research is to develop design strategies, representations, and languages that will result in more comprehensive design tools, innovative manufacturing techniques, and design teaching aids at the college, pre-college, and industrial levels.

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Michael Maixner United States Air Force Academy

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Effects of an Early Prototyping Experience on the Innovation Process:

Can Design Fixation Be Avoided? Abstract It has been well established that introduction of physical artifacts early in the design process can limit the potential solution set in terms of diversity, innovation and number of ideas generated. This limiting effect is known as “design fixation.” While the potential for design fixation exists, concrete, tangible, and physical perceptions of the design task may also be very beneficial during the ideation process. For example, it may increase the feasibility of the concepts generated. Physical testing of preliminary ideas may enable such perceptions. The objective of the study reported in this paper was to understand, at least at the basic and preliminary levels, the role of physical testing and artifacts in the early stages of the design process. To this end, the contemporary design process was augmented with an Early Prototyping Experience (EPE), where the intent was to increase critical understanding of the design problem while maintaining the innovativeness and diversity of the concepts. An experiment was undertaken which included the use of a “control” group that did not participate in the EPE, as well as the “experimental” group that did develop an early prototype. The output from a concept generation exercise for the two groups was rated by experts to determine the level of innovation, diversity and feasibility of the ideas. Experts’ ratings for innovativeness and diversity were very similar between the control and experimental groups indicating that, in these two areas, design fixation was not evident. However, results indicated that the experimental group did experience some level of fixation based on the fact that they generated 30% less unique ideas than did the control group. Feasibility of the ideas was, however, much higher for the experimental group. Because of these mixed results concerning design fixation and the fact that there are other potential benefits of early prototyping, it remains a point of discussion as to whether the EPE has an overall negative or positive effect on the design process.

1.0 Overview and Purpose Design fixation is a state where the results of the ideation or concept generation process have been degraded; such degradation normally occurs in the areas of innovativeness, diversity or number of ideas generated. While many causes for this design fixation have been identified, the introduction of physical or visual artifacts is one of the most common causes [1-7]. However, there may also be significant benefits to the introduction of embodiments early in the design process. Benefits might include better initial understanding of the feasibility of certain solutions or the uncovering of hidden latent customer needs.

The purpose of this paper is to ascertain the impact of incorporating EPE into the design process. The concepts developed by the experimental and control groups were compared to determine if fixation or other pertinent issues existed, particularly with regard to the quantity, diversity, and innovativeness of the concepts generated. Additionally, feasibility of the concepts was also

Walker, V., & Jensen, D., & Crider, K., & Weaver, J., & Wood, K., & Maixner, M. (2010, June), Effects Of An Early Prototyping Experience: Can Design Fixation Be Avoided? Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16806

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015