Getting Off on the Right Foot: How to Prototype

by Danielle Bloom

2 min read

You’ve got an idea for a new product swirling around inside of your head. Maybe you’ve gone as far as jotting down notes about what it looks like and what it does. That’s great, but before you hit the big time, consider creating a prototype first.

The Big Question Your Prototype Must Answer

Developing products requires turning ideas into tangible goods that people want to buy. When you create a prototype, your goal is to answer one question: Does your product work? Answering this question takes some dedicated product research to figure out how it’s going to look and function. The quickest way to work this out is to sketch your product details on paper. As you sketch, make note of specific details that you can go back to as you develop the prototype. It’s much simpler to create a prototype from a sketch than relying on sheer memory.

Creating a Homemade Prototype

Make your first prototype with things you already have at home or things you can buy cheaply at the store. At this early prototype stage, there’s no need to spend a bunch of money. You’re just validating that yours is a viable concept. If you need tools, consider buying them from a local hardware store, fabric store, or hobby shop. Depending on the product you’re creating, you may want to keep things simple and just use paper, string, and glue. For prototypes that require molding skills, you can use a non-toxic molding material. This material is made of temperature-sensitive plastic, and you can use it to experiment, tearing apart and re-creating your product as many times as needed, until you’re satisfied with how it looks.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

What do you do when your design concept is too sophisticated to make at home? Luckily, you can seek out technology tools that are a step above homemade plastic molding, but cheaper than using injection mold options. For instance, a sterolithography machine turns computer drawings into 3D plastic prototypes. You may also find a 3D printing machine at local makerspace facilities.

Finding Professionals to Build Your Prototype

Perhaps you’re not the hands-on type. No problem. If you’re willing to spend the money, there are plenty of skilled individuals and companies capable of creating a prototype for you. Inertia Engineering and Design, Axis Prototypes, Inc. and MAKO Design and Invent are some of the companies to check out.

The Importance of Testing

There’s so much more to prototyping than seeing what your product looks like. Having a prototype allows you to test all sorts of variables to find out how your product performs. It’s common for a product maker to find unexpected design flaws that stop a product from going to the manufacturing phase. During these early stages, you can test things like material, color, smell, texture, and construction. Putting your product through its paces helps you create the best version possible. Once you put the product on the market, consumers won’t be forgiving if it has major flaws. This testing often leads to a greatly improved product that consumers are happy to buy.Creating a prototype for your product idea is a great way to find out if it has real potential. Have fun testing and experimenting with your prototype until you’re totally satisfied with it.

References & Resources

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