Let’s paint a picture: let’s say you’ve got a brilliant product idea, have ideas for how to find the right suppliers, feel confident about your product introduction to the market, and reception from your target audience. The business plan looks strong and you’re ready to assemble a team to transform the abstract concepts into a real solution. While these early stages might seem promising, there are a few questions you need to consider before you take the next steps.
First, how will you sell the new idea to team members or investors? Secondly, are you sure that your product will fulfill the needs of your prospective customers just as you’ve imagined? And will they find your solution useful? Here’s the thing—a new idea can be risky regardless of how great it sounds on paper. As such, you can’t be too sure your idea is going to work if you don’t take time to demonstrate how the product will appeal to your target audience. That’s why it’s important to create a prototype of your product to validate your new idea.
What is a Prototype?
The term “prototype” refers to a test version of a solution that you put together to gauge whether a new idea or concept is viable. Simply put, it’s a mockup of the product or solution you want to create. The purpose of a prototype often varies depending on the stage of your project and your individual needs. It’s up to you to decide how you’re going to use it. That said, creating a prototype for a product offers you a number of benefits including:
- Providing a better understanding of the concept and design intent. By creating a product prototype, you’re able to visualize the design and comprehend better what you’re designing, why you’re designing, and for whom you’re designing. Plus, you get to understand both the look and feel of the solution you’re trying to create.
- Enabling you to test and refine your product. Prototyping reveals unforeseen challenges and hidden flaws, thereby helping you adjust the design and refine the product.
- Providing you with early feedback. Creating a product prototype gives you a chance to gather market feedback and collect reviews to determine what’s likely to work for your target audience and what’s won’t.
- Providing quality assurance. With a product prototype, you can rest assured that the development and implementation of your solution are issue-free. This is because you’re able to identify any issues that could produce flaws in the product and develop quality assurance standards before you get into final development.
- Validation before development. Creating a product prototype allows your teams to discuss between iterations before you can start developing the product. This discussion gives you the surety and confidence in what you want to build.
Here are five tips to help you create your first product prototype:
Determine Whether or Not to Prototype
The first thing you should probably do is a question whether a prototype is needed for the product you want to create. Remember a prototype is just a tool for examining the viability of a concept or an idea—not the objective. Decide whether or not to create a prototype based on your project objectives and how much time and effort you can afford. You can purchase used and new equipment and tooling from sourcing platforms like Machinery Network.
You also need to consider whether there’s another way to solve the problem without having to create a prototype. In most cases, you won’t need to create a prototype for the entire solution or product. Therefore, it’s crucial that you identify and prototype the critical sections and key features that generate the greatest value. Be sure to do thorough research and brainstorm with your team to streamline your ideas before deciding whether or not to prototype.
Create a Concept Diagram or Sketch
There’s no better way to transform abstract concepts and ideas into a realistic, tangible form than to get them down on paper. Once you’ve identified the key features and critical sections that need prototyping, it’s time to create a detailed concept diagram or sketch. Drawing your idea on paper will help you visualize your product prototype in detail.
One of the things you’ll realize in the early stages of prototyping is that you’ll have a lot of brilliant ideas running through your mind. No matter how conflicting they may seem to be, make sure you capture as many of these ideas as possible. While it’s possible to use software to create a digital drawing of these concepts, pen, and paper always work better.
Not only does creating sketches on paper help you filter your ideas and abstract concepts but it also builds a visual roadmap that you can follow in the next stages. What’s more, you can use these sketches when applying for a patent. And if an intellectual property dispute ever arises, you can use them to defend your ownership.
Create a Physical Prototype- Be as Simple as Possible
Sometimes an idea may look great on paper as a design, but you quickly realize it won’t work when you put it together. This is why it’s important to take the pen and paper drawings or digital sketches of your idea and create a physical prototype. Your design should, however, be as simple as possible. Keep in mind, the fewer design components you have, the easier and quicker you can transform your idea into a working prototype.Create your physical prototype in such a way that it best represents the final product. You can either hire a professional prototype designer or seek out a handyman to help build one for you.
Refine Your Physical Prototype to Perfection
Once you’ve built your first tangible prototype, it’s time to identify and correct any flaws that could be present. You want to end up with a product that meets your desired expectations. To achieve that, your prototype may need to go through a refinement process. You may also need to redesign your prototype due to:
- Functional and structural issues in the early working prototypes
- The need to expand the functionality of the product
- Changing customer needs or product trends in the market
There’s always room for improvement when it comes to product design. So, don’t stop working on your prototype until it meets your desired expectations.
Keep the End Goal in Mind
Your objective should be to create a functional prototype that can help you evaluate the viability of your idea. Don’t lose sight of this very important goal. While it’s not uncommon for businesses to pivot towards new products or services and markets, pivoting too much when prototyping can be a sure sign that your vision lacks clarity. Or perhaps your concepts are too complex and unrealistic to implement. It’s important that you stay focused on the end goal and engage your target audience to ensure the product actually does fulfill their needs and meet their expectations.