So you have an idea for a new product for your business – where do you start? The answer depends on your unique business maturity and processes. However, there’s no question that a prototype is a hugely important step in your product’s journey to market.
Prototyping is rewarding to you as the inventor because it gives you a physical manifestation that brings your dream to life. It’s a feeling that no mere napkin sketch can bring.
If you’ve ever wondered what that feeling is like, then this post is for you! In it, we offer you a complete guide to the benefits of prototyping so you can save time in your research and focus on your main goal – turning your new product idea into a reality!
What is a prototype?
A prototype is an early example or mock-up which is used to test a process or product. It’s an iteration of your new product that converts it from an idea to a physical reality and one that can demonstrate functionality.
It was the global design firm Ideo that pioneered a compelling thought about the impact of prototyping:
“If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.”
We couldn’t agree more. A prototype is the simplest way to portray even the most complex thoughts.
How do you make a prototype?
In reality, there’s lots of ways that you can make a prototype. All it is, after all, is an iteration of a design. You may even have prototyped an idea in the past without realising it.
For example, if an idea occurs to you and you write an e-mail to your IT Director to explain the concept, you just prototyped your idea! Your colleague will likely provide feedback which advances the iteration and contributes to the design process.
For process improvements, prototypes can be anything from written guidelines that explain the new concept to short-term working trials of the new methodology.
For product designs, prototypes can similarly include everything from a slide deck containing written and visual information, to a fully-functioning model that you can feel with your own two hands. The latter is the type of prototype we want to focus on here. However, there are commonalities with all sorts of prototypes, so keep that in mind.
Here’s our list of the top 11 benefits that a fully-functioning prototype can provide:
1. Test and refine
In the design phase, it’s easy to miss flaws while you sketch out your idea. The human brain isn’t designed to analyse and predict all the ways that your product will interact with the physical world.
Maybe one day our technology will advance enough that all physical modelling can be done on a computer, but until then, we use prototypes for that!
The observations you make from working with a prototype are part of the overall testing process and you can later use that data to further refine your product.
2. Analyse the materials used
There’s lots to consider in the design phase of a product. One of the most integral parts is about deciding what materials to actually use.
While it’s possible to weigh the pros and cons of different manufacturing materials on paper, it’s far more straight-forward to evaluate a prototype.
With a physical sample of your idea, you can assess the performance of the materials used. Metals, plastics, polymers, rubbers – the list goes on. Think of it this way – during your initial conceptualisation, it’s possible to think that one material is superior to another. After prototyping, you may prefer to go with other materials based on durability, cost or some other constraint that your project faces.
3. Evaluate manufacturing options
When it comes to manufacturing, you have lots of options to choose from. To name a few, there’s the country of origin, trade barriers, and manufacturing technologies for you to think about.
While you may have one particular idea in your head about the manufacturing process, making a prototype only helps to clarify which of the long list of options is right for you. Producing a professional prototype may open up other fabrication methods or allow you to work with companies that you hadn’t previously considered
4. Provide quality assurance
Not all products are created equal. You know this if you’ve ever ordered something cheap online only to have it break after a few uses. Likely, that product wasn’t tested or it didn’t go through any rigorous quality assurance.
But that’s not what you want for your new product, is it? Quality assurance gives you the confidence that the development of your product is issue-free. It’s comforting as an inventor to know that your final product is actually fit for normal use. That’s the great thing about a prototype – it’s an early way to ensure your product is top quality before you roll it out for full production
5. Figure out the cost of production
When planning your pitch to your partners or investors, how do you get the data you need to understand your constraints such as time and cost?
A prototype can help your engineers determine the amount of material needed for production. It also lets your accountants accurately quantify the true cost-per-unit for its eventual production. After all, you’ll get a bill from the manufacturer. In it, you’ll find lots of helpful costing and materials data that you wouldn’t be able to access without going with a prototype.
6. Find efficiencies and savings
Think of the prototype stage like a trial run of what it takes to develop your product for the masses. By running a trial, you can take a close look at your processes and revamp them to suit your findings.
For example, through a prototype stage, you may discover that you don’t need a full-time analyst to cover the coordination of the manufacturing process. That reallocation can free up resources for other parts of the design and planning process, which only further enhances your end product.
7. Modify your own equipment
One of the best benefits of prototyping is that it’s iterative. You can make adjustments to your roadmap along the way. For instance, once you do a prototype, you may realise some great benefits that can come from even a simple change to your tooling or equipment.
Perhaps one version of the prototype fits better with your own industrial process than the next. That consideration gets calculated into the list of pros and cons for your final journey to market.
8. Make a more durable product
The durability of your product relies on much more than just the materials and manufacturing process. Depending on the project, the prototype you commission might simply be the intermediate item in a finished product.
An example is how a company that works in the bicycle accessories niche might come up with an amazing new design for a bicycle seat. However, without problem-solving how to attach the seat to the existing materials on a bike, the idea might not make it very far. A prototype allows that company to work with a real-world sample so they can be sure that it’s durable, long-lasting and fit for long-term use by its customers.
9. Convince investors
What do you think is better – going to a financier with a plan and a pocketful of great ideas? Or, going to a financier with all of that plus a working prototype of a specific product idea?
You guessed it – door number two is the preferred option. If you have a fully working prototype, investors will take you more seriously. By showing them a physical object, it helps to set your idea apart from simple sketches or computer-generated images. Great investors see dozens of those per week, so why wouldn’t you want to stand out from the crowd?
Having a prototype saves you from that awkward moment when an investor asks you “so can we see your idea in action?” Instead of standing there stunned, a prototype allows you to demonstrate the real-world value that your idea can bring.
A prototype shows investors that you’re serious about your idea, that you’ve committed your own investments, and that you’re already one step closer to getting to market.
10. Resolve internal disputes
It takes lots of company resources to bring a new idea to market. Sometimes, not all departments or contributors agree with each other along the way.
A prototype can often silence arguments between engineers and designers (or other departments) because it provides a practical example of how the product functions. Then, your teams can set their differences aside and continue to optimise the design.
11. Encourage innovation across your organisation
Just as a prototype can resolve differences between departments, it can also encourage innovation across your company. That’s because no product development cycle can be self-contained to a singular area of expertise. A prototype excites and involves departments all over your organisation in the product development process.
Involvement benefits your organisation by helping to build a culture of innovation but also contributes to the product since the diverse input adds value in its journey. It also trains your different teams to be experts on the new product, meaning your sales team has an understanding of the core features and the marketing department can successfully portray the product to your audience.
Innovolo has your prototype covered
The benefits of prototyping can be as numerous as the number of steps involved in bringing a new product to market.
Why not turbocharge your latest product opportunity by working with experts? Innovolo is an award-winning product design company that offers end-to-end assistance for your innovations. That means that you can rest easy knowing that the critical stages of your product development are handled by the pros.
We’d love to hear about your new product idea and offer our assistance to help you turn it into a reality!