Engineers use various physical tools (e.g., computers, smart boards, notes, and prototypes) to support their design work. To understand cognitive processes underlying the innovative design process and to reveal the characteristics of innovation-supporting environments, we examined the pattern of tool use in 43 interdisciplinary engineering design teams enrolled in a full-semester product realization course. Teams worked all semester on a single project, with each team being assigned a different industry-sponsored project. Group meetings were video-recorded. Team success was measured in terms of meeting client requirements, and groups were divided into high, medium, and low success. Successful teams (i.e., high and medium success groups) were found to use a smart board and physical prototypes consistently more often throughout the design process, whereas unsuccessful teams (i.e., low success group) used a computer, laptop, and paper notes more often. Particularly, late adoption of physical prototypes was a key characteristic of unsuccessful teams.

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