Collaborative Prototyping: Cross-Fertilization of Knowledge in Prototype-Driven Problem Solving

Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31, 4 (July 2014), doi: 10.1111/jpim.12121

47 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2012 Last revised: 6 Nov 2013

See all articles by Marcel Bogers

Marcel Bogers

Eindhoven University of Technology; University of Copenhagen; University of California, Berkeley

Willem Horst


Date Written: July 27, 2012


This article presents an inductive study that shows how collaborative prototyping across functional, hierarchical and organizational boundaries can improve the overall prototyping process. Our combined action research and case study approach provides new insights into how collaborative prototyping can provide a platform for prototype-driven problem solving in early new product development (NPD). Our findings have important implications for how to facilitate multi-stakeholder collaboration in prototyping and problem solving and more generally for how to organize collaborative and open innovation processes.

Our analysis reveals two levels of prototyping: the managerial level and what we call the designer level, where the actual practice of prototyping takes place. On this level, collaborative prototyping transforms the act of prototyping from an activity belonging exclusively to the domain of design engineers to an activity integral to NPD with participants from within the organization (different functions and managers) and from outside (consultants and users). In effect, this collapses the discrete steps in the prototyping process (on the managerial level) to an essentially continuous process of iterative problem solving (on the designer level) that is centered around the collaborative prototype, which allows participants to see their suggestions implemented and exposing them to the design constraints.

The study moreover shows how, at various stages of the prototyping process, the actual prototype was used as a tool for communication or development, thus serving as a platform for the cross-fertilization of knowledge. In this way, collaborative prototyping leads to a better balance between functionality and usability, it translates usability problems into design changes, and it detects emerging usability problems through active engagement and experimentation. As such, the collaborative prototype acts as a boundary object to represent, understand and transform knowledge across functional, hierarchical and organizational boundaries.

Our study also identifies some constraints in involving the appropriate stakeholders at the right time. The article specifically elaborates on the role of users in collaborative prototyping, which is important in order to cover all phases of the problem-solving cycle but triggers an interesting challenge due to the “reverse empathy” that a user may develop for the design constraints — parallel to the designer empathy for the user context. Finally, our study shows that despite the continuous nature of the (designer) practice of prototyping, there are certain windows of opportunities (on the managerial level) during which the collaborative prototyping approach actually leads to changes in the product design.

Suggested Citation

Bogers, Marcel and Horst, Willem, Collaborative Prototyping: Cross-Fertilization of Knowledge in Prototype-Driven Problem Solving (July 27, 2012). Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31, 4 (July 2014), doi: 10.1111/jpim.12121, Available at SSRN:

Marcel Bogers (Contact Author)

Eindhoven University of Technology

Den Dolech 2
Eindhoven, North Brabant 5612 AZ


University of Copenhagen ( email )

Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO)
Rolighedsvej 23
Copenhagen, 1958

University of California, Berkeley

Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation
F402 Hass School of Business, #1930
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Willem Horst

Independent ( email )

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