Prototyping plays an essential role in the product development process. It allows you to give users a physical item for user testing and get actionable feedback on its performance relative to their expectations. A prototype is far better for connecting with potential investors than slides in a slideshow. Prototypes are also the only effective way to test the product before you send the design to production. However, it is possible to make mistakes during the prototyping process. Here are seven prototyping mistakes you should avoid at all costs.
Many people rush into prototyping before they’ve finalized a design. For example, they might have a rough drawing on a notepad or napkin and expect a working prototype from it. This causes a variety of problems.
When you lack a detailed 3D drawing, it is difficult for a prototyping service to come up with a prototype that resembles your rough mental model. This results in delays in prototype construction, and they may solve the problem by giving you several prototypes. It would have been cheaper to spend more time finalizing the initial plans instead of handing them a conceptual artistic rendering.
A common mistake is not investing in tools or services that speed up the prototyping process. This often results in a time crunch, and some manufacturers take their last prototype to market though the design still has kinks to be worked out. The ideal prototyping process can build new prototypes within days of completing a revised set of drawings.
One way of doing this is to invest in equipment and people to have a prototyping lab. Another option is budgeting resources and people so that you can take them off production to support prototyping. A third option is outsourcing the prototype to a third-party manufacturer.
CNC machining services like Rapid Direct, for instance, will make the item according to your design in a matter of days and ship it back to you. The firm allows you to easily submit designs for their CNC services online. As a complete online manufacturing platform, Rapid Direct also offers a wide range of additional services. For example, they also offer 3D printing, sheet metal fabrication, and injection molding. This means they can send a 3D printed plastic version of one part, a CNC machined prototype of the mechanical assembly, and new sheet metal protective shell for the entire assembly.
Prototypes are not supposed to be the final product. They are supposed to be proof that your conceptual design works. You do want to refine the design so that it works the way your customers expect, however.
You have to make sure that the prototype passes functional and performance testing. You may want to refine the design to make it easier to manufacture or be cheaper. However, the prototype doesn’t have to be perfect. Wasting time and money trying to create a perfect prototype can delay the release of your new product. That costs you money in the form of delayed sales at best, and it could cost you your market lead at worst.
Having a prototype that is too polished could lead to another issue many people overlook. If you present a product that seems almost finished to a group, they will tend to be less harsh and direct in the suggestions than if you showed them a lo-fi version that is clearly meant to be reworked and improved. So try to go as lo-fi as possible while making sure that all the main functions are there.
If you’re running a startup, adopt the goal of a minimally viable product for your first release. Get revenue coming in and secure your place in the market. Then you have the resources to work on a new, improved next generation. If you are an established firm, get the prototype most of the way there before you hand it off to production to determine how they’ll mass produce it.
Prototypes are meant to be made, tested, and discarded. Yet there are designers who add trademarks and worry about the color of the material instead of focusing on testing this generation of the design. Get a working, viable product out of the prototyping phase. Then you can worry about the refinements that make your product uniquely yours.
A surprising number of firms consider their design a failure when the prototype doesn’t work flawlessly. They then decide to give up instead of working on fixing the prototype. They forget this is exactly why you build a prototype instead of rushing to production with your design.
Whatever you do, don’t panic if the prototype doesn’t work. Bring in engineers or consultants to find ways to improve it, unless you want to use another approach to meet that market need. Don’t get upset if the customers don’t like it because this saves you from making and distributing a product no one will buy.
There are several variations of this mistake. One is limiting prototype testing to engineers. If you take this approach, you may get a perfectly working product that doesn’t meet customer requirements. Another mistake is limiting feedback to customers. Ask a variety of users their opinion, including but not limited to the users who represent your target market.
You want to get everyone’s feedback, and this includes other departments in the organization. Marketing might be able to advise you on features to be left out of this model because it is planned for a future product line. Manufacturing staff can give suggestions to make the product cheaper and easier to assemble. Discuss the current design with finance and the supply chain. You don’t want to rely on expensive parts that are almost impossible to source. Or they may find issues with the design that would make the items more difficult or costly to ship.
Just making simple adjustments to the design could make logistics much easier and reduce costs significantly. This is why you need to get as many critical players involved in the prototyping process as possible, so you can pick up on things you may have missed.
It is easy to be too attached to the initial product idea and refuse to let it go. In these cases, any alteration to the design feels like a personal attack to the inventor. Yet ninety percent of all prototypes are significantly revised before they reach the end-user. Furthermore, they may pull out of the project after getting negative feedback during testing of the prototype, as well.
The solution is to focus on the end goal. For example, the designer should focus on the objective of meeting a market need, not specifically how the prototype works when trying to solve the user’s problem. Frame changes to the functionality, ergonomics, and cost of the final product as steps in better meeting the customer’s needs.
Prototyping is a key step in product development. However, you need to approach it with the proper mindset and avoid major mistakes if you want it to result in a successful product launch on schedule and within budget.