Journey to Prototype: Bringing Technical Validation into Concept Development

To develop a product is to take an idea and turn it into something real and physical, something that can be seen, touched, and used. This ‘something’ could be tiny or large, simple or complex, it might even be lifesaving. Whatever the product, the process of transforming a thought into a tangible item is no easy feat. New product development is fundamentally challenging; this is why a product design consultancy develops a structured process to facilitate the development journey and reduce risk along the way. Each process may differ, but for the Client the pinnacle moment is reaching a prototype. Reaching a prototype is absolutely a key moment in the development journey. Nonetheless, the magnitude with which the prototype stage is revered can sometimes lead to opportunities in the earlier design stages being undervalued in a race to reach prototype. Often these are opportunities that can maximise the success of a prototype (and final product) and, in fact, can significantly save time and revisions in the later stages beyond the initial prototype.

The moment of reaching a prototype will always be a priority for the Client. Why are we so obsessed with the prototype stage? Why is this stage often afforded more value than any other? The answer is simple – it’s perceived as the first moment the Client gets to see their idea in reality. It offers validation; when with bated breath and healthy nervousness you unbox the prototype and get to see how your idea has translated into a real product. You can touch it. You can use it. You can interact with it. You can show it to people. The prototype gives a kind of ROI: you can now see in a physical form, the manifestation of all the ideas and conversations, the energy, time and investment. On a personal level, it’s a highly rewarding, even emotional moment. From a business perspective, reaching a prototype can be equally significant, it can be a key pre-requisite for further funding (potentially via crowdfunding or investment). It’s clear then that prototype is worth the hype.

But what is critical from a designer’s perspective, is that all of this validation can be seen in the earlier stages too. In reality, the prototype stage, the physical output, is an accumulation of all the design work that has come before it. Every idea, conversation, strategy, concept sketch, CAD detail, sourcing exercise, and in-house test contributes to the creation of a prototype (and obviously, the final product). It can be hard to see the value in these individual activities until you’re looking back over your journey with a prototype in your hands. However, recognising this value is essential. The work carried out in the early stages will determine the success of your product’s prototype. The quality and depth of design work carried out prior to prototyping is what will create that gasp of delight when you first unbox the prototype.

A key question evolves out of this, that question is, how can you ensure the prototype delivers on this expectation? By building technical feasibility into the early development phases.

Prototype may be the obvious moment when you are able to see and touch your idea, but there are numerous hands-on activities that come before this. As much as we love blue sky thinking, ideation and sketching, there’s more to concept development than visual exploration. There are strategic ways to bring technical validation into even the earliest stages of product development to make more evidence-based and informed design decisions that lead to a high-impact prototype and product.

Foresight 

The foresight stage includes the thorough research, sourcing, testing and evaluation of possible components to use within a product. This can be especially valuable when there are a number of technologies that could work withing your product. By sourcing and evaluating components for performance, price, size, power consumption, applicability given the intended use and more criteria, you are able to gain a solid understanding of the basis of your product right from the off.

Concept 

Different product concepts can be designed with particular manufacturing processes in view. This capacity requires a product design consultancy with strong manufacturing knowledge but can allow you to quickly get to grips with what may or may not be feasible. This can push you to consider your design priorities, whether it be achieving a very specific form, or realising the product through the lowest-cost manufacturing route.

Development & Detail 

Carrying out FEA (Finite Element Analysis) of 3D CAD models greatly informs the prototype creation. FEA gives an indication of where forces are going to be applied to the design, allowing a designer to assess the integrity and quality of a design before ever utilising (and potentially wasting) materials to create a prototype.

Our Thoughts

The process of realising an idea is broken down into stages precisely because product development is difficult, but it’s important to recognise just how interrelated these stages are. The purpose of stages is to de-risk development step by step, though the development process is still an interconnected one. Don’t wait for the prototype phase for confirmation that your idea will deliver as you expect. Fluidity, and new levels of forward-thinking can be built into every design stage in order to validate decisions and give you confidence in the product as it’s being developed. Reframing the way you see value throughout the product development journey could help deliver the excitement of prototype in every single stage.

Email: gethin@iterate-uk.com

Email: holly@iterate-uk.com

Contact: 01291 408283

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