So, you’re in inventor, an entrepreneur, and you have a hardware based product idea. Nice! You think it through and decide it’s time to push yourself ahead of the crowd. You do your due diligence to select a product development firm, forming a relationship and setting up a contract. In the plans are up front prototyping and revised/educated design to follow.
You’re told that you’ll be “involved in the process” and that you’ll get to see, review, and handle “prototypes!” It all sounds incredible, and having the physical part in your hands would be so rewarding after the anticipation and planned investment. But as for prototypes… what should you really expect?
“…what should you really expect?”
If you were thinking of receiving the “Beauty Model“:
Is it going to be a gorgeous plastic showroom ready piece? Will your prototype be 3D printed? Textured? Painted and ready for the photo shoot? Matte finishes, glowing indicator lights, rubber buttons… wow, what a showstopper!
Or…would it be a “Proof of Concept“?
This would be a cardboard cutout with fake buttons drawn on with a Sharpie. Or perhaps cobbled together wood and hardware sourced from your local Lowe’s or Home Depot? Sticky notes attached to an existing off the shelf product? Looks like something you could have done…in your garage…by yourself… without paying all this cash.
Who would pay money for Proof of Concept prototypes? Where’s the value in that? No chance they could be comparable in value to the beauty models, am I right? Quickly cobbled wood chunks vs a show piece?
Short Answer: Proof of Concept prototypes are important. Very important.
Long Answer: There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to product development. All prototypes serve a specific purpose, and depending on where you stand in your development phase, they can be vastly different in appearance. The real purpose of a prototype is to learn
“The real purpose of a prototype is to learn.”
If you’re starting from scratch with your selected firm, and they’re working with you to narrow down your choices quickly, the Proof of Concept prototypes can be the best things you can focus on. These are fast, cost effective, and most of all, informative.
Think of developing a remote control- something hand held. With buttons and internal components. The task at hand is to determine a general shape of the remote in length, thickness, and width while thinking about the different button locations. What about Ergonomics? Accessories? CAD may not be the best answer at this point- too much time with so many different potential avenues. 3D printed CAD files can also be costly with so many iterations to come.
In walks Proof of Concept.
Cut numerous pieces of wood of various profiles on a band saw in minutes. Begin drawing layouts on paper, and then on the wood. Hold them in hand, reaching to see if all the button placements are accessible to your fingers. If you can’t reach the buttons, slice off more of the wood to thin out the part body. Redraw your buttons in a different color to distinguish your changes, or perhaps for space claims of internal components. Cut a paper towel roll and flatten it for a makeshift “charger” and maybe add some pinched masking tape where you’d want some features to seat the remote.
These aren’t “show quality” parts by any means, but they help all parties involved to learn quickly about the project scope, as well as the changes that need to be made. The faster a firm reaches these conclusions, the sooner:
- You as the client can provide feedback
- Scope can be redirected
- Your funding can be focused in the right direction
The design firm can provide guidance from these Proof of Concept prototypes in intended function, materials, user experience, manufacturing, marketing demographic, and much more. There may be tens of years of experience and know-how between multiple individuals in a company to lead you (the Visionary) in the right direction in proceeding- OR recommend that a project halt based on the feedback and projected viability.
The show room prototypes will come later, but they are almost always expensive, even with 3D printing. Their usual purpose is to sell to potential investors, buyers, or just for marketing to create hype before your product launch in the coming months. It is, in fact, a purpose and very much still a prototype as there is something to be gained.
However, if you’re starting from the ground up, trust in the Proof of Concept.There’s almost always much to filter out in a very short amount of time, and even the crudest of prototypes can prove a concept viable to move forwards. It’s important to look past aesthetics and understand that the importance to keep prototyping. In fact, as has been said by many a design engineer, keep prototyping until you stop learning.
“…keep prototyping until you stop learning.”