Why Prototypes Matter

Lifesize Prototypes: A High-Stakes Recommendation

At SPARK, our product development process is bespoke to you. We don’t require you to sign off on a lifesize prototype before moving into the production phase—but to say we highly recommend it is like an accountant saying they highly recommend tracking your expenses. Or a lumberjack highly recommending that you run that way.

It’ll potentially save you a lot of headaches later.

To illustrate the point, here’s a gas station pump near the SPARK office—after a user has inserted their credit card to start pumping:


Can’t see anything? There’s nothing wrong with your eyes. No malfunctions either; the screen is working fine. In fact, here’s the view from waist-height:


See it?

How long does each user wait before bending to see the screen? How many missed transactions might those lost minutes add up to? Maybe not a whole lot, but that’s just the most basic example of blocked messaging because of this design oversight. It could get way worse if you’re talking about paid advertisements, for example.

Now before you say, “Well they could solve that with a couple return spaces before the text”—the problem isn’t the placement of the text. The problem is that a portion of the display screen is blocked by the plastic frame for anyone over 5 feet tall. If your product includes a display screen, you want the whole thing visible to any real-world user.

And whatever the cost of a general software update, it’s still an unnecessary expense that could have been caught beforehand with a lifesize prototype.

Theoretical design isn’t the endgame

There’s nothing drastically wrong with the design of the gas pump. It’s fairly neutral, performs its job well enough, and draws the eye to key touchpoints. Someone spent some quality time in CAD, fitting everything needed into a simple slender unit.

You can see they even included a bevel at the top of the frame to account for just this circumstance. And then they went to manufacturing. How many hundreds of this model are out there now?

That’s why SPARK is a product development firm…we don’t stop at product design. Experience has taught us to explore every angle of an idea before moving forward.

Solving the problem before it happens

Sure you can adjust for this particular error with a software update—but now every future program run on that screen has to account for the blindspot. And what about instances where you can’t fix the mistake with software? Fixing design mistakes after manufacturing often means retooling, which can be jaw-droppingly expensive. The cost of a fullsize prototype pales in comparison.

If the pump’s point-of-sale façade were a product being developed at SPARK, our recommended process would have included a lifesize prototype—even if it were made of cardboard or polystyrene—so we could analyze real-world contextual issues before marching off to production.

For example, we’d want to drive different cars up to it. Have different people read lines of text from top to bottom of the screen. We might even mock-up those concrete pillars that flank gas pumps collecting car-door paint. Because sometimes it’s what you don’t see in CAD that’s important. In this case, the approach matters. In the real world, you have to stand close to the pump because your car is right behind you. So you have a steeper viewing angle. That’s the kind of context you might not catch by looking at models on a computer screen.

Your choice: roll the dice or trust the process

At the end of the day, sometimes a fullsize prototype will simply prove that you got it right. Maybe that seems like a waste of money—but we can promise you it’s less painful than the alternative. Like replacing a quarter-million dollar production tool. Or recalling eighty thousand units that have already been sold.

We think the accountant would agree… And perhaps the lumberjack as well.

But like we said at the top: lifesize prototyping is just a recommendation based on our experience of risk vs reward. At SPARK we like to err on the side of precautionary problem-solving rather than crisis mitigation.


Want to know more about how we solve problems before they scale up?
Give us a shout.

Produced with Quillpower