The making rooms has put together this guide to provide an understanding of how you can go about making your first prototype. Believe it or not, all great inventors started with a simple prototype that allowed them to test the basic principles of their ideas. Most of the time before reaching the final design of your product, you will have to go through many iterations, from cardboard mockups to a functional model that can be mass-produced and sold. But as you may know, every great idea has to start somewhere, and that place we believe is here.
What is a prototype?
A prototype is a primitive proof of concept of the product that you want to invent. This is normally built using cheap materials such as cardboard, tape, clay, glue, plasticine, etc. However, if your product is an application for a mobile phone, you might create a digital prototype using some sort of simulation software. Then, the software would allow you to send the Beta app to several users before selling it on the App Store.
Why use prototypes?
Prototyping is a valuable step in the Design Thinking Process. By putting the end-user at the heart of this process will require you to test your idea on real users. Therefore, prototypes make this possible by ensuring that you have exhausted all possible combinations or solutions to the problem at hand.
How can prototypes help you?
As an inventor or developer, obtaining valuable first-hand insights into how the user will interact with your product is essential. This initial data or research will show you if your product has successfully met the criteria that it was intended for.
Once the first prototype has been trial by a random user, their feedback will help you visualise the design flaws or any usability issues that they have come across while testing your product. The advantage of making a prototype and testing your idea is that this will enable you to fail early as well as saving time and money.
Sometimes a problem is too complex to test using only one prototype. In this case, you may want to create different prototypes to help you and your team visualise and test which idea is more feasible. By testing several ideas at the same time will help you move forwards on the prototyping cycle much faster.
Nevertheless, regardless of how thorough your Research & Development is, many developers and users will struggle to conceptualise the initial ideology of your product until they have had a physical prototype in front of them. For this reason, prototypes give you the opportunity to iterate, refine, and make adjustments, until you have a product that is ready to be sold to a wider population.
Different kinds of prototypes
Works like a prototype
A works-like prototype, it’s mainly focused on the functionality of your product, which for most products means the internal electronics or mechanical components. This type of prototype is great as a Proof Of Concept (POC), that will help you test and ensure that your idea can be feasible in real life.
Once, a “works- like” prototype has been made and you are happy with all the modifications. Only then, is time to move on to the looks like the actual product type of prototype. This will also mean abandoning the use of development kits. The reason being is that you now need to develop a custom Printed Circuit Board (PCB) to hold and connect all of your product’s discrete electronic components and see how it all works as a whole unit.
Looks like a prototype
The idea for a “looks like” prototype, is that the product has been created using a combination of materials, that will reassemble a physical object which will only be pleasing to the eye of the customer. Almost certainly, this prototype won’t do anything, apart from sitting on an exhibition and look like the product that you are trying to bring into life.
This prototype helps you visualise the physical characteristics like weight, size, and the amount of space required to fit in any electronics or mechanical components. As a rule of thumb, it’s helpful to start out with a “looks like” prototype, rather than a more refined prototype made using an engineering approach. However, this is only a suggestion as there is no right or wrong way to develop a product.
What do I need to make one?
Is your idea feasible?
Before making and committing any funding to your product in mind, you’ll need to think about how viable is your idea, as well as, determining if it is a good one to take forwards. Finding this early on will save you money and time.
Think of your idea
Rather than been overwhelmed thinking “Where do I start?”.
The initial stage is to try to get the main concept of your idea into a piece of paper. This can be archived, by making loads of small sketches visualising, what the internal and external characteristics of your product are. However, these sketches don’t have to be pretty or a work of art.
Furthermore, just remember that the main goal of this activity is to get your idea as quickly as possible into the paper.
Once, you have drawn about 5 or 10 small drawings, which may show your product from different perspectives. The next thing to do is to grab a new sheet and try to redraw another 5 drawings while keeping the stuff you think is a must-have for your product. (Do this based on your previous sketches)
Generating great ideas is extremely important when designing a new product. Some people like to use sticky notes, others use digital platforms. It really all depends on what is best for you and who needs to know about your product.
There are different ways of how a product development strategy can be funded. For instance, you might have some savings put aside, an investor might be interested in your idea, or you can make a Kickstarter campaign to help you with the costs.
These options are great, but you need to be careful about where the money is spent. Often when prototyping, initially you will buy small quantities of materials to start building. However, be careful as all the small bits do add up, and if you are willing to 3D print or use a CNC for other types of manufacturing, these will reduce your budget fairly quickly.
Furthermore, at the prototype stage, it is not necessary to build all the features and certainly not the specifics that make your product look good. A functional prototype that helps the intended audiences experience the product and get a feel for how the product works will be sufficient. Take on only those costs that help you deliver on the sole objective of proving how your product solves the problem at hand.
In a nutshell, have a plan which highlights how and where the money is most needed. This will help you keep on track to success.
As you progress on the development of your product, you will come across new jargon that is used by designers or engineers alike on a daily basis. For this reason, It’s advisable to understand to the best of your ability what the new information means. By doing so, it will allow you to be more specific when acquiring help from an external company.
Hardware & Software
When you have completed your funding plan, you might have already also looked at what sort of equipment would be needed to help you build your first prototype. It is worth asking around friends and family or perhaps coming into The Making rooms to use the facilities provided here. We have an abundant amount of tools that you can use provided that a health & safety induction has been provided before any use.
If your product requires electronics or mechanical parts, it is worth researching online (Amazon, eBay ) or perhaps visiting various hardware stores to see if they have what you require, might be best.