Test, Refine, Repeat. Why you need to prototype

Get crucial feedback during the product development process.

If you’re familiar with the Product Development Process, you will understand the term “prototype”, and you’ll also understand how important prototyping is throughout the entire design process. From the very first proof of concept, right through to pre-production, prototypes that look and perform exactly like the final product will help you refine and perfect the final product, avoid costly pitfalls and save you 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 sole purpose of gaining insights into the merit of a proposed design. Unlike final production, prototypes are almost always made in very low volumes. Prototypes come in all shapes and sizes. They can be put together quickly with low-cost materials such as foam and cardboard, or produced from 3D CAD files using high tech additive and subtractive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing and CNC milling. Below are some of the types of prototypes we use throughout the product development process to help our clients make crucial decisions:

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?

The main reasons to create prototypes are as follows:

1. To 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. You want to 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. To refine the product’s integrity

A prototype highlights unknowns and shows you structural or functional weaknesses, giving you the opportunity to correct these at a less crucial point in the product development cycle.

3. To 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. To 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, so you can 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 those key 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. Therefore, before you start developing a prototype, 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 through the Design Loop

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 at Whistle and it gives us and our clients highly 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 and don’t wait until the very end to make your first one!

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?

Pretty much 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 test out ideas and development meaningful prototypes.

Get in touch with the Product Design team at Whistle about your next project

Whether you need full product development support or just manufacture and supply of parts, contact us to see how we can help.

Our fully resourced and award-winning design team is ready to partner with you and help you bring your ideas to commercial reality. For more information about our product design process, click here. You can download a Design Brief Template and learn more about preparation, budgets and Whistle’s Design Loop process.

Paul Miller

A founding Director at Whistle Design Group, Paul is focused on helping clients achieve growth through the development of market-changing products. He is passionate about business strategy, communication and designing products that enhance the human experience. Paul believes that the future will always be shaped by those who are willing to challenge and create.