Opportunities of Industry-Based Makerspaces: New Ways of Prototyping in the Fuzzy Front End
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With rapid-prototyping tools and low-cost sensor technology makerspaces and maker communities are anticipated to help advance an active business strategy for companies aiming for higher agility in the early stages of engineering design, also known as the Fuzzy Front End (FFE)(Böhmer, Beckmann, & Lindemann, 2015). Yet, with the broad range of user groups and wide applications of makerspaces and prototyping tools, it is challenging for industry to identify, which approaches best fit, a corporate context. Moreover, prototypes, the out-put from a makerspace, are already valued tools in the field of engineering design. They are used throughout the design process in many different varieties. To unleash the potentials of an in-house makerspace, a clear understanding of the goals of prototypes in the FFE is needed. However, very little research has been devoted to exploring and defining the outcome of prototype usage especially concerning, which prototypes perform best in the FFE. This phase contains high uncertainty that can severely impact the success or failure of the final product (Ramasesh & Browning, 2014). The most valuable requirements in this phase are therefore so-called unknown unknowns - the circumstances one did not realize would be of crucial importance to the project (Sutcliffe & Sawyer, 2013). User needs identified through user research is highly valued in the FFE as one type of unknown unknowns to elicit (Cooper & Edgett, 2008; Sutcliffe & Sawyer, 2013; Zhang & Doll, 2001). Seeing an in-house makerspace as a strategy in a company’s overall multidisciplinary FFE work the question arise how other FFE activities than product prototyping, could benefit from an in-house makerspace. Hence this thesis work includes an exploration on how the field of user research in the FFE can benefit from rapid-prototyping methods and makerspaces. With this as a starting point this thesis work answers the three following research questions: • What are the characteristics of an efficient prototype for eliciting requirements of unknown unknowns in the FFE of engineering design? • What can companies learn from makerspaces to produce efficient prototypes in the FFE of engineering design? • How can user researchers benefit from the possibilities of makerspaces to produce efficient prototypes in the FFE? The thesis consists of Part I, describing the background of the research project and work of this thesis. The research methods deployed span from qualitative semistructured interviews and company visits to quantitative design experiments and user tests. A priority has been made specifically to apply the tools in the makerspaces to gain practical insights on opportunities and challenges. The binding article, Part II examines previous research and offers a discussion on the findings gleaned from this work. Finally, Part III presents the results in form of the appended papers. The main contribution of this work to the research community is a characterization of the prototypes eliciting the most so-called unknown unknowns in the FFE. These prototypes are defined as prototrials. Prototrials are of high functionality yet low fidelity, and parallel built intentionally to uncover unknown unknowns. This thesis recommends that teams in the FFE adapt the rapid-prototyping tools of makerspaces to rapidly build such functional, explorative prototypes. The possibility to bring such high functionality into the FFE through an in-house makerspace represents a fundamental change compared to the traditional engineering design process. Here functionality normally increases throughout the design process having rather low fidelity and functionality in the FFE. The community is encouraged to rethink their view on prototyping based on this argument alone; despite prototyping having been a domesticated design practice for decades. Moreover, it is illustrated how user researchers can benefit from this new paradigm. The new methods open up possibilities for researchers to quantify their data collection methods and, furthermore, base their analyses of user behaviour on controlled and repeatable setups rather than only upon empirical qualitative studies. Given these new insights, the author wishes to encourage use of in-house makerspaces, but stress the importance of inviting all professions working in the FFE to the makerspace. This is to secure broad requirements elicitation rather than falling into a trap of only encouraging more technical people, operating as engineers and manufacturing workers, to use the tools and machines in the makerspace. Engineers might have a more natural approach towards rapid prototyping tools and machines than for instance business developers and anthropologists due to their technical backgrounds. However, to create optimal FFE activities eliciting a broad range of requirements and deep product understanding, it is crucial to involve all disciplines in the implementation of an in-house makerspace since the space should have the goal of supporting an exploration-minded culture, which addresses uncertainty, rather than just utilizing the tools in the makerspace for already existing practices. Only then will the full potential of an in-house makerspace be realized.