Effects of a structured prototyping strategy on capstone design projects
Prototyping is often a very important phase in a capstone engineering design project. However, in many cases, prototyping decisions are made arbitrarily by students, adversely affecting the quality of the final product delivered. Previous research efforts at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a structured prototyping strategy tool based on a synthesis of prototyping techniques that have been shown to be effective. This strategy tool leads designers through the process of making decisions about aspects of a prototype program, such as how many concepts to prototype, the number of prototype iterations to complete for a given concept, and whether to use scaled prototypes. In this study the effect of explicit discussion of these prototyping decisions on the results of the capstone design projects was evaluated. Research suggests that early and frequent prototyping leads to increases in the quality and the novelty of designs. Therefore, the goal of this project was to determine if exposure to the prototyping strategy tool leads to an increase in the number of prototypes constructed. At the beginning of the semester, students in the capstone course received instruction on the benefits of prototyping and on the use of the prototyping strategy tool. Interviews were conducted at the end of the semester to evaluate the students' prototyping efforts. These results were compared to previous capstone projects where the students did not receive formal guidance on making prototyping decisions. The results of the comparison show statistically significant increases in the proportion of teams opting to create prototypes and the average number of prototypes per team. This thesis describes the study in detail, analyzes the results, and presents conclusions and future directions for the research.