Prototyping is essential for every designer, and the critical element for success is efficiency. In this blog, we will talk about some practices to be as efficient as possible in prototyping. Have you ever had a prominent idea for a product but gave up on it because you did not know how to validate it? Or even worse, you knew how to validate it but you thought you would need a ton of resources that you did not have? Well, a prototype is a preliminary version of a machine, device, or platform from which better versions are developed. Depending on the development phase and the type of product, the shape, materials, and complexity will vary.
Product prototyping is a key component of the new product development process, but the truth is that it is much more than something that you just should do. It is intended to move the manufacturing process forward, improve the product, and ensure that your concept meets its full potential. If you go through the prototyping process without achieving greater insight into your product and how best to manufacture it, it is tough to call that process prototyping at all. In that case, it is just a box to be checked off, at the expense of your valuable time and money, with no return on your investment.
The Importance of Prototyping
Prototyping is all about making the right decisions. Here are some of the reasons why you should always care deeply about your prototypes. First of all, it helps you validate assumptions around functionality, materials, and features. With prototypes, you can check if the idea you had in mind functions and if the proposed solution solves the problem.
Second of all, prototyping allows you to clearly define the product. Testing prototypes help you choose the right features, shape, and potential users. It makes it simpler to explain what the product is. Last, of all, it also attracts collaborators and investors. Convincing someone to invest in your product using words is a lot more difficult than showing them a functional prototype.
6 Practices for Efficient Prototyping
In this section, we will provide you with a list of some tips and practices to follow when prototyping.
1. Prototyping Technology
A good idea is to know which technologies are used to make different prototypes. Suppose that you choose the wrong technology to create a prototype and you later discover you could have made 20 prototypes with that budget if you had used a different technology.
There are different digital fabrication technologies, although the most popular ones are the following. There are many types of 3D printing, although FDM and SLA/DLP 3D printing are the most accessible ones. Given their low cost, you can have 3D printers in your office to make early prototypes.
Then, you have laser cutting. It can be the fastest prototyping technology, though it is limited to 2D shapes. Nevertheless, the laser-cut parts can be stacked or folded to make different 3D shapes using cardboard or wood. Lastly, we have CNC. This subtractive manufacturing method can create final products and it is compatible with most materials, including plastic, wood, and metals. There are many other manufacturing technologies, such as injection molding or industrial 3D printing. Nonetheless, you should only use them for advanced prototypes or production.
2. Create Batches
Besides optimizing the prototypes, you can still plan and prepare many partial prototypes in advance. For instance, if you want to test the grip of one of the designs, you can create multiple prototypes with different surface textures and make them at the same time instead of having to wait for days because you ordered one prototype at a time.
In addition to this, a single prototype could include multiple elements, although the result would not be the final product. This is especially applicable if you want to check manufacturing tolerances or see how small some parts or texts can be. It is quite typical with digital fabrication tools such as FDM 3D printing
3. Virtual Prototypes
It is expected to think that all prototypes need to be manufactured. Yet, virtual prototypes work particularly well if you want to find the right aesthetics for your product. Make multiple designs and create high-quality renders so the team and beta testers can share feedback. For instance, many crowdfunding campaigns use 3D renders to promote their product. This way, they do not need to manufacture it and they can still make slight changes based on the community's feedback.
4. Understand your Requirements
It is always worth remembering that there is no cookie-cutter prototype. Every product and every developer has different requirements that need to be met, questions that need to be answered, and problems that need to be cracked. It is key to understand how those specifics apply to you It is hard to gauge the success of a prototype if it does not meet unquestionably defined and understood objectives.
5. Define Goals
In many cases, it is difficult for a prototype to do many things at once. Whether due to cost, logistics, or the practicalities of the product development and pitching process, several iterations are often recommended or required. In those circumstances, get even more granular as to what you are looking for from a prototype iteration. If you are interested in rapid prototyping, for example, your goal for iteration might be to make sure that your product looks aesthetically great, both to consumers and investors. More functional prototypes might have the goal of proving your product mechanically sound or dimensionally viable.
6. Escape Tunnel Vision
It is comfortable for a development team to become so detail-oriented and invested in the intricacies of a project that it misses big-picture problems that are probably apparent to an outsider with a fresh eye. Naturally, product developers also want their prototypes to succeed. Be sure to test your prototype with those unfamiliar with the product, within or outside of your organization, to reap the benefits of those different ways of viewing and interacting with your product.
If you follow these guidelines, then prototyping for you will become easier and your results will start improving in no time.