Product prototyping is one of the most rewarding things you can do in the process of developing a new product.
Making a prototype of your product is the first big step on the long road to developing a new product. It’s an exciting moment when you can hold your idea in your hands and see it come to life. A prototype will bring your dream to life in a way that your one-dimensional concept sketch just simply cannot do.
But the benefits of a prototype go way higher than the visual satisfaction of an actual sample of your product. They can promote a new product development process in many ways.
What is a product prototype?
A prototype is an early sample that helps you to test your concept or process. It could also be a new model or perhaps a new release of a product. Prototyping is used in a variety of contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software programming. A prototype can be a static model or a physical model; it is generally used by designers to evaluate the feasibility of an idea, or by users to enhance its precision or functionality.
Don't get bogged down in the details of how to build a system. Instead, prototype early and often.
In some design workflow models, creating a prototype (a process sometimes called materialization) is the step between the conceptualisation and the evaluation of an idea. It's really the tangible representation of the idea.
What are the main different types of prototypes?
- A proof-of-principle prototype is a quick and cheap demonstration of what something might look like. It provides insights into whether the design is workable, but it's not a complete solution.
- A working prototype will include all or nearly all of the functionality of the final product.
- A visual prototype simulates the look and feel, but not the intended operation of the design.
- The geometric features of a design are emphasized in a form study prototype. There's less concern for the end result of colouring, textures, and other visual aspects of the final appearance.
- A user experience prototype is often a low-fidelity prototype that represents enough of the appearance and function to effectively communicate what the product is like; this is enough of a prototype that it can be used to determine if the product is moving in the right direction.
- A functional prototype captures both function and appearance of the intended design, although it's often created using different techniques and even different scales from the final design.
- A paper prototype is a sketch or mock-up of the user interface of a software product, showing how it will look and work. They can be used as part of a software walkthrough to confirm design decisions before more costly levels of design effort are spent.
So why is prototyping so important?
Prototypes enable you to test and refine how well your product design functions.
Prototyping has become an essential part of most startups' product development process.
In developing a prototype, you will be able to see how your product will actually function; they allow you to explore the functions of your product early on in development, which allows you to identify and fix problems before they become a full-blown production issue. It is easy to miss possible design flaws whilst in the concept sketching phase. But these often are revealed as the product takes a three-dimensional form. The prototyping process will allow you to make adjustments to your product to ensure it functions as intended.
Prototyping encourages evaluation of performance on the materials used.
The ideation phase of NPD typically involves consideration and analysis of materials suitable for construction. Initial specifications may include using a particular material to keep to a low budget. However, after developing a prototype, you may decide that the alternative more costly material will improve performance to an extent to justify the extra expense.
Prototyping allows us to test materials, structures, and components. This allows us to create structures that perform well under load and temperature profiles that might not be appropriate for use in the final product. Prototyping also provides a way for us to test relationships between different aspects of a design or product and gain insight into how these relationships change with changes in environmental conditions.
Prototypes to attract investors.
When approaching potential investors, a prototype of your design will ensure you are taken more seriously. A prototype will always distinguish an idea from a sketch or computer-generated image version. An inventor armed with a prototype will be viewed as a serious innovator with a purpose well thought through and a feasible project idea to take to market.
The best way to attract attention to your idea is to show it's early and that it's working. Prototypes are useful for showing potential investors your product already has some initial traction, and that you're likely to succeed. Investors are notoriously fickle, but you're trying to convince them that a punt you're taking is a good one, so you should treat them with respect.
Prototypes benefiting all areas of your organisation.
The engineering or product development team is only the first segment of an organisation when thinking in terms of NPD. Obviously, a prototype is beneficial in this department. However, it is important that other relevant areas within your company such as the sales team and marketing department have a full understanding of the product, so they are better prepared to develop campaigns and sales pitches that accurately portray the product. A prototype will of greater value for this than drawings or sketches may have been.
Prototyping to determine the most advantageous manufacturing methods.
In the concept design phase of new product design, a particular manufacturing process was likely envisaged to create the product. Producing a professional prototype may well open up other fabrication methods that you didn’t know of before and will be more beneficial than the initial idea.
The present industrial age relies heavily on mass production techniques. It is a closed system in which a number of actions are performed, and these actions produce standardized products or services. Probing out alternative methods of manufacturing allows one to avoid this closed system.
Prototyping plays a key role in product development. Prototypes enable you to visualize, and better understand your proposed design or process. It allows you to test your ideas and theories at a low cost, and on schedule. Your prototype will help you further refine your design.