Creating a prototype is one of the most critical steps on the path of turning an idea into a usable product. A good prototype will help secure project funding and give people a preview of how the product will work. Creators need to keep several things in mind when designing a prototype. Physical prototypes can serve many purposes, and it’s vital to choose the right kind of prototype to build. Here are some examples of the prototype strategies we use at Brainchild Engineering that creators should consider, depending on the project progress and their unique situation.
Many great project ideas fail to gain traction because investors and other gatekeepers don’t believe the concept can work. In a situation where the creator is trying something novel, a proof-of-concept prototype can help overcome naysayers who doubt the viability of an idea or project. As the name suggests, these prototypes are about proving a particular concept can work. These prototypes don’t need cosmetic flair. Their purpose is purely functional. Showing that an idea can work is vital in very early stages for engineering feasibility. Investors are more willing to pay development costs for projects when creators can prove that the core concepts are functional.
Creating a functional prototype isn’t always necessary when the project is based on established technology. In some situations, it’s more important to determine the outward appearance of a planned product, as well as its identity and branding. For example, someone that wants to create a smartwatch doesn’t need to prove that the concept can work. It would be more useful to show the people funding the project how it will look when finished. Non-functional, cosmetic prototypes are also helpful for gauging public interest in a product. For example, companies can make a cosmetic mockup of a project they’re considering to see if it’s something that interests their customers.
As a project progresses, creators will need to create a functional, cosmetic prototype. These prototypes will be cosmetically accurate in that they reflect what the final project will look like. They’re also functionally accurate and can perform many, if not all, of the tasks that the final product will be able to do. When seeking funding through crowdfunding sites, having a functional, cosmetic prototype will make it easier to reach funding targets. Consumers are already wary of scams on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. A functional, cosmetic prototype shows everyone that the project is legitimate. A functional, cosmetic prototype may contain internal substitute parts which make no difference to the layman/untrained observer. Particularly in hardware projects, electronics are typically easier to substitute off-the-shelf controllers in early stages rather than use custom PCBs. This is a great way to save money and time when proving out mechanical aspects, wherein the electronics are not as critical.
The final prototype is a pre-production version of the product that mirrors what will be created during mass production. The final prototype is used by testers to ensure everything works properly. This pre-production model is critical for ensuring a flawless design before mass production. One of the worst things that can happen to a project is learning about a critical flaw after producing several thousand units. Because the final prototype will be used for testing purposes, all parts must be as close to the production design and manufacturing process as possible.
At Brainchild Engineering, our standard approach is to create as representative of a prototype as possible. This approach places the emphasis on avoiding mistakes in design and engineering rather than lazily discovering them in a prototype. With this, we work out as many bugs in as few prototypes as possible, saving time and money because prototypes are costly for time and money. Of course, we’re happy to accommodate any client’s preferred prototype methodology, if they have a unique situation.