Prototyping: A Comprehensive Guide

Prototyping is one of the essential steps in the manufacturing design process. Here, the designers implement their idea which is a mere drawing into 3 dimensional models.

It is imperative for someone with an excellent product idea to familiarise themselves with the ground rules of prototyping to have a fully functional product in the end.

Among the various types of prototyping, finding the correct form is the only way to execute your ideas that are applicable and practical for the world.

What is a prototype?

Prototypes are sample versions of the final product that is used for testing before their launch. By definition, it means a simulation of the final product.

Prototyping is usually done by the design teams who will implement the ideas from digital forms into tangible concepts. With prototypes, you can validate and improve your designs before releasing the products.

This is an essential step in the design process because:

  • It helps to resolve usability issues before the final launch of the product.
  • It can help to identify the areas that need improvement.

The four main qualities of prototypes are :

  • Representation-This is the basic form of the prototype, usually represented on paper or as a digital copy.
  • Interactivity-This shows the functionality of the prototype to the user. It could be view-only, partially functional or even fully functional.
  • Precision-Shows the level of details and realism.
  • Evolution-This simply shows the lifecycle of the prototype. Some are quickly built, tested and dismantled. On the other hand, some are improved upon over time to fully evolve into the final product.

Unlike what people think, prototyping cannot be equated with beta tests. It could be any version of the product which can be used for testing purposes.

This will help to give new insights into how people use the products.

Types of prototyping and fidelity

Before discussing more about prototypes, you need to understand that prototypes are made with varying degrees of completeness and details. Different parts of a prototype have varying levels of fidelity. Sometimes you can build a prototype with low visual fidelity but high functional fidelity if you need to test the operational aspects.

Fidelity of a prototype

Fidelity refers to the level of completeness of a prototype. This is mainly dependent on the stage of progress.

  • Low fidelity- These are low cost and easy to build.
  • Medium fidelity- These are closer to a solution and are more detailed.
  • High fidelity- These are very detailed and time consuming to build and are closer to the final solution.

Low fidelity prototype

These types of prototypes are elementary to make and are often less costly as the designers need less time to build them..

Low fidelity prototypes are made at the starting stages of a project to determine whether the design meets the user and the designers’ requirements.

This will help you explore various options to identify the most appropriate way to execute your ideas.

The main advantage is that designers can rapidly develop the idea and test the applicability of several different prototypes to pick out the correct variant.

Some of the examples of low fidelity models include paper models, sketches, simple storyboards etc.

Medium-Fidelity Prototypes

This type of prototype is mode detailed and refined when compared to the low fidelity ones and are therefore costlier and take longer to develop

Developers often move to develop this type after they have solved some of the issues in the low fidelity ones.

You can use this type of prototypes to give people a better sense of what the solution might look like when you have already tested and validated some early assumptions.

High-Fidelity Prototypes

High fidelity prototypes are thoroughly refined with all functionality as envisioned by the designers.

This allows the engineers to provide an accurate representation of what the solution might look like.

These prototypes are more expensive and take longer to build than the low-fidelity or medium-fidelity ones.

  • High-fidelity prototypes help provide a realistic picture of the end product, both in functional and visual aspects.
  • Allows you to test out the full functionality of the completed solution.
  • Can be used to display the functionality to potential investors

Prototyping to decide

During the initial design phase of a project, it is common to have conflicting ideas from different team members. If the disagreement is not solved initially, it might get increasingly difficult as the project progresses.

Developing a prototype is an excellent way to simultaneously compare different ideas and resolve conflicts during the starting stage. After you have built the prototype, you can present it to your team members and stakeholders and ask for feedback.

Prototype for test

These prototypes are made to quickly test the effectiveness of various solutions and use the results to improve the ideas. Prototypes for tests are the most common prototypes that can be usually seen in a design project.

Before making a prototype for test, 

  • Identify all the key questions that you want to answer through your prototype. This will help you to focus more on building the aspects of the prototype to test these questions.
  • Do keep in mind that you don’t have to test out all the questions. Sometimes even building a lightweight prototype will help to solve the issue.

Prototyping process

The process of prototyping is implemented through the following steps:

Step1:Gather the requirements

The process starts by analyzing the need. The users and stakeholders are interviewed to understand their expectation from the system.

Step 2: Quick design

Once all the requirements are identified, a preliminary design is made that is simpler and cost-effective. This will help give a brief idea to the user on what to expect at the final stage.

Step 3: Build a prototype.

In this stage, a small working model is created based on all the information gathered.

Step 4: Evaluation

Once a working prototype is made, it will be presented to the user for an initial evaluation and the feedback is obtained. This will help to identify the weakness and strengths of the model.

Step 5: Refining the design

If the client is not happy with the prototype presented to him, improvements are made based on the user’s feedback.

This phase might take a longer duration until all the expectations of the client are met. Once the user is fully satisfied, a final product is developed after the approval.

Step 6: Testing the final product

Once a final product is developed, it will again be thoroughly tested to identify any design or functionality shortcomings. The final product is set for mass production once the designers and users are agreeable with the results.

Benefits of prototyping

prototyping
source: Pixabay.com


Following are some of the benefits of using a prototype:

1. Saves time and money

This is a cost-effective way of identifying the changes that need to be done before large scale manufacturing of a product starts.  

2. Helps to identify the issue

By developing a prototype, you will be forced to identify and solve both foreseen and unforeseen technical issues that might creep in during a product design.

By incorporating more and more changes, you will create a final product with a high level of efficiency.

3. Help to gather accurate requirement

While designing a product, designers have difficulty determining what all functionality has to be incorporated into the product.

This is because traditional methods of gathering focus groups and interviews can fall short as people have a hard time conceptualizing a product they have ever seen before.

Having a prototype will help to solve the issue and helps to progress further in development and design.

4. Help to make the best design decisions

While designing a product, it is common to have conflicting opinions among the designers about how certain features have to be incorporated into the design.

With prototyping, it is possible to create a working model with different features and understand what works the best for the purpose in hand.

Prototyping helps to make the correct design decisions saving a lot of time and money. 

5. Minimise the investment risk

Investors are often reluctant to invest in projects that are being tested out for the first time. On the other hand, if you have a working prototype, you will have more chances to demonstrate your idea’s feasibility attracting prospective investors to fund for your project.

6. Easy to apply for patents 

As per the patent rule of several countries, a patent is granted to the person who first conceived and produced the invention.

Having a working prototype will be the most effective way to demonstrate this.

Bottom Line

The article covers discussions on prototyping, its types and methods.

The unique methodology of prototyping allows designers and engineers to test the idea and its dimensions before coming out with the final version of the project.

It is crucial to keep in mind that a prototype will not necessarily be the complete solution to the problem in hand. It has to be rigorously improved and tested in several different aspects as the product evolves.

To avoid any last-minute confusion, a gentle briefing to the client would do good as they might not be disappointed when they come with many expectations.

Remember to take feedback from your clients and improve the product as necessary.

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