Every product that goes through the prototyping phase does so for one significant reason: testing. Prototypes are critical to product design, development, and testing. As a testing agent, prototypes allow designers and engineers to establish form, fit, and function – a process that may help to determine product usability, as well as identify and eliminate design flaws (two critical elements related to positive user experience). At the same time, prototyping for product testing also helps to greatly reduce assembly costs for the final product before it goes to market.
It’s a fairly common notion that products that make it to market should work as they were originally intended to work and be easy for consumers to use. Consumer loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Products that are not thoroughly tested and arrive on the market with flaws or usability issues will not be received well by the buying public. Consequently, prototyping for usability is now widely considered a necessity in the product design and testing process.
Top 5 things you can learn from a prototype
- Is it functional enough to lure investors? Oftentimes, a prototype is also designed and engineered to be used as a showpiece to attract the interests of investors. Many prototypes are fashioned from durable ABS or high-quality plastics. These prototypes can be sanded, textured, and painted to appear no different than the final product. A sharp-looking prototype is more persuasive than a drawing on a piece of paper or a computer-generated image.
- Is it strong enough, lightweight enough? Once you have a prototype in hand, you can easily begin to judge if the manufacturing materials selected for the proposed final product will stand up to use, stress, weather, etc. Firmly in hand, a prototype should be able to help determine the best materials. You may wish to use metal over plastic for strength – or plastic over metal for weight. Product testing is difficult to do on paper. In the end, smart designers and engineers rely on the prototype phase to better see if the final product will perform as expected.
- Does the design actually work? Many things look great on paper, but the wise designer, developer, or investor isn’t likely to go to market with a product based on the strength of a vision and a stack of drawings. Prototyping brings ideas to life and allows the stakeholders to see the physical realities of their ideas and drawings.
- Do we have to go back to the drawing board? Let’s face it, as stated earlier, some products look great on paper. A prototype offers validation. If it doesn’t look right or feel right (or work right), it may be time to go back to the design phase and start sketching again. Painful as this may be for some eager inventors, there is much money to be lost in manufacturing when your design isn’t as good as it should be.
- Can we patent it? Filing for patents on your design will almost always require drawings and 3-D models. Although a physical prototype is not required for an application with the U.S. Patent Office, a computer-generated prototype model (or virtual prototype) is often required.
The Top 5 Things You Can Learn from a Prototype article is just one of many resources designed to help inventors, entrepreneurs and businesses prepare to launch new products into the marketplace. PRG Prototyping specializes in designing and building new products – with a focus on concept design engineering, design for manufacturability, prototype development, production, and marketing presentations. PRG can also provide information on patent protection and intellectual property services.