This study explores the role of sketching when designers are creating fast, preliminary prototypes during hands on design-and-build activities. Many studies have noted the value of both sketching and the building of preliminary prototypes in the early stages of the design process. In a typical design scenario, exploratory sketches are made before prototypes are fabricated. However, in certain cases, the differences in the design exploration value of a sketch and a simple, preliminary prototype may not always be clear. In this study, three conditions for a design-and-built activity were compared: a control group (allowed to freely sketch throughout), a limited sketch group (only allowed to sketch at the beginning) and a no sketch group. The study was conducted twice, using two different prototyping materials each time. One that is assembly only (an Erector set) and one that requires both part fabrication and assembly (foam core). The performance of the prototypes, the type and quality of the sketches, and the relationship between sketches and prototypes were evaluated. Results for this study suggest that fast, preliminary prototypes are equally as useful for design exploration as sketching in building simple mechanisms, though results would likely be different for more complex design tasks.

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