Redesigning the risky business of product development

April 13, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For companies developing new products, creating a physical prototype is a risky undertaking. If a prototype fails, the time and monetary resources put behind it are wasted, meaning designers, engineers and companies must put more time and money into creating a new prototype for testing. For large companies like Johnson & Johnson, a diverse product portfolio means millions of dollars and hundreds of hours a year may be lost to failed prototypes. Jessica Menold, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering, aims to change that.

As the Design winner for the inaugural Johnson & Johnson Women in STEM2D (WiSTEM2D) Scholars Award, Menold will use a three-year, $150,000 award to decrease the number of failed prototypes and wasted resources by developing a more defined prototyping framework. She will use engineering design, cognitive psychology and bio-behavioral health theories to create an easier and more successful transition from innovative ideas to dynamic products.

“Prototyping is a multifaceted process that sits at the intersection of product, process and people. Because of this complexity, we have to begin exploring prototyping by leveraging the complementary perspectives offered through interdisciplinary theories, methods and tools,” Menold said.

Because the prototype process is defined by designers, early research for the project will look at the relationships between prototypes, design outcomes and the designers themselves. Menold intends to study the intricacies of and correlations between these three engineering design process components.

Through her exploration of the relationship between prototypes and design outcomes, Menold will work to develop defined metrics to evaluate prototypes.

“The success or failure of a product in the market is dependent upon a variety of factors. While it is tempting as engineers to only evaluate the technical performance of a prototype, other qualities might then be overlooked, resulting in no clear path towards market success,” she said.

By analyzing the relationship between prototyping and designers, Menold will research the impact prototyping activities, frameworks and methods have on designers, providing better insight into how and why designers choose different prototyping methods.

As an entrepreneur and researcher, Menold is uniquely positioned to study the effects of prototyping.

“I initially became interested in prototyping because of my work as a founder of physical product-based startups. Prototyping was central to the development of the products but was a huge risk as we had little funds to work with, and this is often the case for startups,” Menold said. “My academic work is focused on exploring and expanding prototyping methods, in order to understand the longer-term effects of these methods on both people and product.”

The Johnson & Johnson WiSTEM2D Scholars Program focuses on helping to develop female STEM2D leaders by awarding and sponsoring women researchers in each of the STEM2D disciplines: science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing and design. Awards fund one woman per discipline who has completed her advanced degree, is working as an assistant professor, and is not yet tenured at an accredited university or design institution. To learn more, visit

  • Jessica Menold professional headshot

    Jessica Menold is an assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering's School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs and Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated April 13, 2018