Get crucial feedback during the product development process.
If you’re familiar with the Product Development Process, you’ll understand the term “prototype” and how important prototyping is throughout the entire design process. From the first proof of concept, right through to pre-production, prototypes that look and perform exactly like the final product help to refine and perfect the final product. This avoids costly pitfalls and saves time and money in the long run. When creating new products, prototypes are an essential step in evaluating design performance and function.
What do we mean by prototype?
A prototype is an early version of a product or its sub-components, made for the purpose of gaining insights into the merit of a proposed design. Unlike final production, prototypes are made in low volumes. They can be put together quickly with low-cost materials such as foam and cardboard, or produced from CAD files using high tech additive and subtractive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing and CNC milling. Some of the types of prototypes we use throughout the product development process to help our clients make crucial decisions are:
Functional Prototypes: To test mechanisms and key features.
Ergonomic prototypes: To test comfort, ease of use, layout of controls, form and colour.
Virtual prototyping: Computer simulation of mechanical design against applied forces.
Digital prototypes of User Interface (UI): To test the flow of digital menus, controls, information etc.
Why do we prototype?
We create prototypes in order to:
1. Save time and money.
A prototype takes time to develop but in the long run, you’ll save yourself both time and money once you’ve experienced the feedback that comes from developing a prototype. You’ll consolidate productions steps and refine materials and costs. Uncover and address potential design issues before spending your allocated engineering budget, before investing in manufacturing, and before delivering the final product to the market.
2. Refine the product’s integrity.
A prototype highlights unknowns and shows you structural or functional weaknesses. This gives you the opportunity to correct issues at a less crucial point in the product development cycle.
3. Receive feedback quickly.
With feedback, you’ll change or add new features and refine your product further. Changing features later in the product development cycle costs much more than changing or adding features earlier.
4. Get to market sooner.
When you have the prototype in your hands, you’re more compelled to get to market sooner. You’ll have more confidence in what you’re creating. Through testing and refining, you’ll most likely start the production phase earlier.
Creating a prototype allows you to study the impact of a design in the real world. It helps you best understand the impact of your design choices, gain valuable feedback from others and take the learnings about the likely success of the intended design direction. Only when you are armed with this feedback can you confidently make decisions about the next stages of product development. You’ll be in a position to determine if all of the design criteria have been met and make valuable improvements to the design where needed.
Create A Prototype To Give You The Essential Information You Need.
No matter how complex the prototype might be, remember that it is being made to test something and give you important feedback. It’s therefore important have a clear intent and goal about why you’re creating it, and the feedback you need:
- What exactly are you testing for?
- How do you judge if the prototype is successful?
- What is the pass/fail criteria?
If you’re worried the product may fail at the prototype phase, this is exactly why the prototype step is of great value. Understanding where a design may fail is often the most valuable outcome of prototype testing.
Design, Test, Refine, Repeat.
Designing, creating and building new products will inevitably feature prototyping as a core part of the design process. Product development is a process of design, test, refine and repeat. We refer to this as a Design Loop, and it gives us and our clients valuable feedback at every stage to further refine, test and repeat. Each time we complete a Design Loop there is typically always at least one prototype.
Make multiple Prototypes.
We recommend prototyping and testing often before heading too far down the time-intensive path of development. And you don’t always have to prototype the complete product. At times, prototyping and testing only key components of the product is enough to get the feedback you need. For example, to ensure the mechanisms inside a product are working as expected before completing the engineering design of an external housing.
What Can Be Prototyped?
Almost anything can be prototyped. We have access to a local and global network of suppliers who can assist with the production of prototypes at every stage of the product development process. Our in-house workshop, complete with 3D printers, is the perfect place to start testing ideas and development meaningful prototypes.