How to create your first product prototype
by Duncan Geddes
Read our comprehensive guide to creating your first prototype, including the essential parts of the process
What is a product prototype?
When creating your first prototype for a product, it’s important to have a comprehensive plan as there are many crucial stages essential to prototype success.
A prototype is the first three-dimensional version of product. Prior to the prototype, your product would have been a concept that had not yet been brought to life. The preliminary example of your product will not be perfect, which is why it is preliminary and not the final design.
Prototyping can enable you find the flaws in your product and remove them from the design, as well as helping you better understand what works well. Once the initial prototype has been made, you can build from it and develop upgrades until you are happy with the final product.
The breadboard is the working model of your idea, offering the basic functions of your product. This will help you see how effective and practical your creation is.
The presentation prototype focuses on functionality and appearance. This stage will enable you to see the aesthetics of your idea and may be used for promotional purposes.
This prototype should be the final version. This allows you to analyse the product with a fine-tooth comb, making sure absolutely everything is perfect.
The stages of prototyping
Before you go about creating the three-dimensional version, you need have some form of visualisation of your concept. You should try creating sketches of your product, bringing together both aesthetic and practical aspects – the sketches should include the item’s appearance and its technical features. By creating a visual representation, you can play around with proportions, colours and details. This step can also help with creativity and exploring new ideas.
You may opt to use a pencil and paper or digital drawing – there are pros and cons to both. By using a pencil and paper, you are less likely to erase your work. Although you might use a rubber here and there, you may find that if you are not happy with your drawing you just start again. It can be helpful to collect every single drawing you have created to see progression and initial ideas. If you are using a digital platform, however, it is much easier to press the ‘undo’ button. Using digital means that all your sketches can stored online in one place, making them easier to access.
Use product design tools
You may find you have numerous drawings and you’re not sure which variation of your concept is best. The next step is to develop a virtual prototype. By using tools for product development, you can create a 3D rendering of your concept, bringing a new depth to your project. You will be able to visualise your product from all angles, helping advance and perfect specific designs.
There is plenty of software on the market that ranges in price and function, with certain tools offering more helpful features for specific needs.
Here is our product design tools list:
If you are not able to use product development software tools yourself, find a prototype designer that can assist or create the rendering for you. Whenever you include someone new in your project, you should make sure they sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to prevent someone else from using your idea.
Create the physical product
Using your finalised 3D rendering, you should now create your first product prototype, or ‘proof of concept’. You may have the product development tools and techniques to do this on your own, or you may need assistance.
Depending on the product you are designing, who you seek to help create your design will vary. You may require engineering, IT or woodwork skills. You could employ a professional prototype designer or find someone who works in the field you need, such as a carpenter or electrician. Additionally, if your project has a small budget, you could speak with a local college that specialises in your requirement.
Use your prototype
Once you have the complete prototype in your hands, you need to use it. Test the product and find out what works and what doesn’t – this is the purpose of a prototype. You may not like the material or find that the item isn’t very practical. The size may not be suitable or the colours may not work, or it might be the product development tools weren’t right for the job. It is this stage that enables you to adjust and perfect your project.
When redesigning and remaking your prototypes, you should keep in mind a list of priority features that should be included in each design.
The next steps
There is no right number of prototypes you should create before being happy with the final product. However, once you are it’s time to get in contact with a manufacturer. You may also want to apply for a patent.
Make sure you take into account your budget, and ensure that you have the funds to cover all aspects of bringing a new product to market.
Technical Foam Services offers design and development support for your products, helping you bring your ideas to life. Using our expertise in the field, we are able to not only manufacturer products, but develop foam prototypes – helping you every step of the way.