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Student use of prototypes to engage stakeholders during design

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Professional Skills development in Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Michael Deininger University of Michigan

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Michael Deininger is a Ph.D. student in Design Science at the University of Michigan. He received his B.S. in Industrial Design from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 1999. His research focuses on the use of prototypes during design, particularly related to engineering education and medical device development for resource-limited settings. Michael works in the Laboratory for Innovation in Global Health Technology (LIGHT) and is co-advised by Kathleen Sienko and Shanna Daly.

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Kathleen H. Sienko University of Michigan

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Kathleen H. Sienko is a Miller Faculty Scholar and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan (UM). She earned her Ph.D. in 2007 in Medical Engineering and Bioastronautics from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology, and holds an S.M. in Aeronautics & Astronautics from MIT and a B.S. in Materials Engineering from the University of Kentucky. She directs the UM Global Health Design Initiative, Sensory Augmentation and Rehabilitation Laboratory (SARL) and the Laboratory for Innovation in Global Health Technology (LIGHT), and co-directs the UM Center for Socially Engaged Design. Prof. Sienko has led efforts at the University of Michigan to incorporate the constraints of global health technologies within engineering design at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She is the recipient of a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, a Teaching Innovation Prize from the UM Provost, and a UM Undergraduate Teaching Award. While at MIT, she was a winner of the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition.

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Shanna R. Daly University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Shanna Daly is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. She has a B.E. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton (2003) and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University (2008). Her research focuses on strategies for design innovations through divergent and convergent thinking as well as through deep needs and community assessments using design ethnography, and translating those strategies to design tools and education. She teaches design and entrepreneurship courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, focusing on front-end design processes.

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Jennifer Chen Lee University of Michigan

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Jennifer Lee is a third-year student pursuing biomedical engineering student at the University of Michigan. She is currently a research assistant at the Laboratory of Innovation in Global Health Technology. Her research interests include areas of global health technologies and engineering design. She is also currently a facilitator for the Medical Device Sandbox at University of Michigan and a member of Tau Beta Pi.

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How and when do students use prototypes in engineering design?

Prototypes play an essential role in the product development process and enable designers to specify, meet and verify design and engineering challenges (Yang, 2005; Viswanathan et al., 2009; De Beer et al., 2009). To design solutions for today’s increasing demands and challenges, design processes must incorporate strategies to fully understand and account for the intended products’ objectives and stakeholders’ needs. One such strategy is the use of prototypes. The process of iteratively using prototypes in each phase of the development cycle has long been recognized as useful by professionals, yet informed beginners lack the background to use this technique to maximize their project outcome (De Beer et al., 2009). In addition, today’s engineering design curricula often view prototyping as a phase, an activity that typically occurs only once after engineering analysis. This may contribute to the underutilization of prototypes by students, who may be missing the greater potential of prototypes that expert designers benefit from.

The primary goal of this study was to examine how and when student designers use prototypes during the development cycle. We investigated how students used prototypes to understand their design problem, interact with stakeholders, define user requirements and engineering specifications, as well as how students attributed the use of prototypes to the success or failure of their design projects.

Sixteen capstone engineering design students from mechanical and biomedical engineering as well as an interdisciplinary design program participated in semi-structured interview sessions. The interview protocol was developed and refined based on prototyping literature and four rounds of pilot interviews. During the interviews, students were asked to describe their latest projects and reflect on their use of prototypes during the individual phases of the project. The interviews lasted approximately 90 minutes, were audio recorded and transcribed for analysis. Transcripts were analyzed through an open coding approach (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw) using NVivo, where patterns were identified and developed into themes. Two researchers developed codes together based on a subset of the interview transcripts. They then separately coded the remaining interviews to check for inter-rater reliability.

Preliminary analysis of the study data shows that the use of, and the motivation for, using prototypes varied among the students in our sample even though they had essentially the same levels of engineering design education. Students often used prototypes only when instructed to do so, and the iterative use of prototypes often only occurred out of necessity, when students realized their concept did not work as expected. Few students built prototypes intentionally to iterate on their idea. For several students, establishing and maintaining communication with stakeholders proved to be challenging, however the students who did use prototypes during stakeholder interactions found them beneficial.

Preliminary findings provide examples of how prototypes influenced the development of design ideas and the benefits and challenges students identified when employing prototypes during their design projects. These initial findings suggest that while students are aware of the impact that prototypes can have on all phases of the design process, few students used them frequently or intentionally. This suggests students might benefit from a more purposeful and iterative use of prototypes to support all phases of the design process. We propose that this research could be expanded further to develop pedagogy that facilitates the integration of prototyping techniques into engineering design education.

Deininger, M., & Sienko, K. H., & Daly, S. R., & Lee, J. C. (2016, June), Student use of prototypes to engage stakeholders during design Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27348

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