The importance of prototyping is unanimous with numerous studies into the media, types, roles and properties of prototypes. However, no recent papers have sought to examine and characterise industry practice and if and how this has changed since the early 2000s.
To address this, a snapshot of industrial prototyping practice with particular attention to the what, when, why, how, and by whom is reported. The study involved five small-medium sized design companies based in the South-West of the UK and validation of the findings by two independent practitioners.
The snapshot revealed that 3D printing and virtual prototyping tools have reached widespread adoption in SMEs,that their design processes are highly agile and iterative and are difficult to fit to any extant design process model.
Rather, the approaches appear to implicitly comprise of three levels of design convergence: macro, meso, and micro, which correspond to finer/more detailed changes.
The results also reveal the frequent transitions between digital and physical media and the need to manage these transitions to ensure the product representations in different media are appropriately up-to-date.