The Importance of Prototypes in Product Design
Inescapable within the realm of industrial design, product design and development, the concept of prototyping is always mentioned and suggested towards inventors and creators looking to bring their ideas and inventions to life. To the ambitious inventor, ideas and concepts come easy, but one might forget about the physical and technical aspects that come along with bringing a simple idea or sketch to fruition – or into an actual handheld item. To industrial designers and engineers, when considering a concept design or idea, prototyping is almost always necessary and is a relevant and important step to creating and developing a product.
The purposes of this white paper will be to introduce the idea of a prototype, explain its importance to the concept and product production procedure, and go through the different types of prototypes an inventor will come across when discussing their product creation. The goal of this white paper will be to clearly explain the whole idea and importance of prototyping within the product design realm and educate on how the different forms of prototypes are useful and necessary to the producent development process.
What is a prototype
Understanding what a prototype is not as difficult as it sounds. Although there are many technical aspects that go into creating a prototype, understanding the use and idea of what it is and what it is used for is quite simple. Essentially, a prototype is a physical manifestation of your idea or concept. It will be functional product made of different mediums that serve either for education or informative purposes the function of your idea, and most importantly, the viability of your product.
Prototypes are especially important for inventors because they allow the creator to remember that an idea in your mind might seem easy, but once actually set out and made into the physical world, can actually be harder and incur a lot more problems than you might have initially imagined. Additionally, prototypes are essential when needing to present your idea to a potential client. For example, if you plan on selling your product idea to customers or investors, they need to see and feel what they are buying, ergo prototypes are needed in order to get funding for your product idea to exist.
Why are Prototypes important
Prototypes are important for several reasons. The most fundamental reason for prototyping your idea is to simple prove that your idea works. Viability in product invention is extremely important and always necessary because you need to show not only that your idea works, but that it works well. Another point to consider is that your design needs to translate to a working product. Prototypes are not just aesthetic pieces where you can apply any design or detail to your idea and imagine it still functioning – your design needs to be realistic with what you plan your product idea on doing and your prototype should prove that. Alongside with having your prototype demonstrate its function, having a prototype add value to your project, showing that there is an actual and drive and – more importantly – a genuine belief in that having the physical access to the idea of the product will be useful and needed.
Often, it is usually the engineer or designer who will initially suggest creating a prototype, and this is mainly since prototyping is essential for understanding the future of the products production and manufacturing. It is impossible to manufacture a product that has a fault design or functionality, therefore having a prototype is always needed for discussing manufacturing as it gives an extremely detailed look into how the initial design of the product idea need to either be refined or redeveloped as a whole.
Having a product that works is important, but what is just as important is making sure that your product can last. What this means is that even if you have a functioning product, the way that that is built or designed is crucial to how the product will feel in the hands of the consumer. Not only just the feel, but what is also important is envisioning the quality of the product.
Always keeping in mind, the function should be able to do what is it proposed to do well, and for as long as possible without breaking. If your product has faults or breaks, this is where competition can take advantage of your idea, or even worse – consumers won’t be interested in purchasing your product. Fear not though, as it is the industrial designer and engineer that recommend building a prototype, a good engineer will typically know based off the nature of the idea of the product which materials will work best for what the product is supposed to do. They might even suggest using 3D printing.
Even though the beauty of prototyping is that you have the access to experiment and try out a variety of different materials to see which material works best for what you want your product to do and work, it is important to remember the technical aspects of the product and which material will be work more realistically for what the product Is designed to do. Finally, the last aspect that has to do with material is finding out which material or medium will work best is scaling your product. Scaling, proportions and sizing are essential in your product design because size effects functionality immensely. Having a product that is too small or too large can hinder how your product works, and some materials that make up either your product or prototype can give you an idea how much bigger or smaller the object will be.
Something extremely handy and useful about prototypes is that they give a good future vision for how your product will look, feel, and work. Once an initial prototype is out, it’s a good idea to focus on its main functions and make sure that the product can do what it’s supposed to do. After you have a stable product, you can continue to redevelop and tweak your prototype in a multitude of different ways. This is the glory of prototypes – you can constantly change and rechange different ideas, concepts, functionality, materials and details over and over until you get the desired vision or product design for your invention or idea.
The Different Kinds of Prototypes
To the non-designer or engineer, the hardest part about understanding prototypes is learning all the different kinds of prototypes and what they are all specifically used for. As previously mentioned, when designing a product, redesigning and development of a product idea is inevitably bound to happen and is almost quintessential to the product design process, and in so, as the inventor you’ll encounter not just one prototype that is being constantly redeveloped, but more than one prototype used for different purposes in the process of creating the perfect model for your product idea. The different types of prototypes are as follows:
Usually the first step of every product design, once the idea and concept of the product is laid out on the table for all parties to understand, the industrial designer or engineer will immediately behind drawing out a couple of sketches as to how both they, as well as the inventor, imagine would be the best way to design the product for its desired function. This initial sketch is known as a wireframe is mainly simple illustrations or schematics that plan out the design of the idea, the layout, architecture or the sequence of the product. This first prototype is the first step in visualizing your product idea and imagining where it could change and improve as further correction are made to accommodate everything that should be included within the design.
Presentation/Mock – Up Prototype
A presentation or mockup prototype, although not as exciting as the actual concept prototype, is simply a prototype demonstrating how the eventual product is going to look. The focus of presentation and mock-up prototypes is to mainly present to the inventor or client the general outlook of how the envisioned design should turn out or is being developed, for this reason, presentation and mock up prototypes almost always have no actual functionality as they simply serve as just a vision for the design of the product. A benefit of this type of the prototype allows both the client and designer to understand which parts go where and how the product will be held or felt in the hands of the consumer.
The most common of prototypes is the concept prototype. This prototype is the prototype in which both the designer and inventor get to see how the products functionality works. Not only is the design of the product taken into consideration, but the inventor gets to see how their idea works when tested out. This is the most crucial and important part of the prototype process as it provides not only the demonstration of how the product will work, but also the viability of the product. This prototype will not only allow the inventor and designer test out the product multiple times to see if its design allows the product to do what it was envisioned to do, but also see where the product can be improved, if it has any faults and it effectively works. This type of prototype is best for showing both the viability, and communication of the product. You’ll most likely encounter this type of prototype in the early stages of the development of the product, and therefore wont always represent the full functionality of the item.
The Feasibility Prototype is simply a prototype developed and presented in order to determine the feasibility of the product. This includes figuring out the various solutions to any potential problems that could occur when someone uses the product or when testing out the product target functions. In addition, the feasibility prototype is used to quickly recognize and fix any technical risks attached to the development of the product. This is especially important to the designer or engineer as they must recognize which parts need to be tweaked or taken back to be rebuilt. The feasibility prototype is perfect for testing out the performance of the product as well as its compatibility with the components it is geared to be built with.
Used in the early stages of product design analysis, a horizontal prototype is not presented in physical form, but rather is a user interface that is presented in the form of screenshots. The goal of the horizontal prototype Is to demonstrate what the outer layer of the human interface will look like. This is a good prototype to have because it allows the inventor and designer to clearly view and clarify the scope and requirements of the product. Horizonal prototypes are helpful in the sense that they allow for full understanding for the range of abilities for the product and is useful for presenting ideas to investors, going over the products direct requirements and allows for redesigning.
As the name infers, the vertical prototype, in contrast to the horizontal prototype, is sed in the later steps of analysis and design. Vertical prototypes focus on the more technical aspects of the product and give great depth and detail into diving deeper into the product design to investigate where the product can improve or needs improvements in specific features or functions. Vertical prototypes are also handy for looking at aspects such as data, sub-systems, and the functioning of key features. A vertical prototype is great for looking into complex designs and proving that even though the design looks complicated, its technical aspects can still function.
As product ideas and inventions come and go, an inventor needs to invest their time and creative process in thoroughly understanding both the idea of their product, the design, and most importantly – its initial function. Investing time into creating multiple prototypes are always a secure method in testing out all elements that need to be considered when creating a new product or when considering the possibility of product development on a product that already exists. Prototypes not only benefit the inventor by having a hand on and detailed view of how their idea or invention will work once in physical form, but having accessibility to the different types of prototypes will showcase all technical aspects, material, date and possible faults that could have been missed if you were to only have an initial concept sketch of the invention.
If you have a great new invention and you’d like to learn more about this process, get in touch with MAKO here and visit our website to find out more. Feel free to give us a call at 1-888-MAKO and we can set you up on a call with our product analyst!
Article Author: MAKO Design + Invent
MAKO Design + Invent is a full-service consumer product development firm servicing both high-growth corporate manufacturers and invention startups. With a 25-person team across 3 offices (Austin, England, Toronto), MAKO has complete in-house industrial design, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering design and prototyping services. To assist our start-up inventor clients, we also have a subsidiary branch called Mako Invent that, in addition to above, helps start-ups with patenting, strategy, marketing, and sales/distribution for all consumer product categories. For our corporate clients, MAKO Design develops world-class consumer electronics designs through our industrial, mechanical, and electrical design teams.
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