have you ever heard of a product prototype? It seems a very technical and specific word, but the truth is that it is so familiar that you can’t even imagine it. Therefore, in this article we will tell you what a product prototype is, what it is used for and what are the guidelines to develop one.
A fundamental part of the development of a product or service is born as a result of a prototype. In fact, the device you are using to read this text arose from the planning of a prototype and the extensive execution of a project.
Therefore, today you will learn how to design a product prototype, the characteristics of product prototypes and the steps to perform a prototyping. In addition, we will share with you some examples of innovative product prototypes so that you can get inspiration for your own creation.
what is a product prototype?
A product prototype is a limited representation of a product design that allows the parties responsible for its creation to experiment, test it in real situations and explore its use .
A product prototype can be anything from a piece of paper with simple drawings to a complex design produced in 2D or 3D animation software.
1. what is a product prototype for?
They are useful for communicating, discussing and defining product ideas between designers and responsible parties. A prototype is of great importance in the early stages of product development, specifically, during conceptual design.
2. what is the purpose of prototyping a product?
Prototypes support the work by evaluating products, clarifying user requirements and defining alternatives. In this way, you can fail quickly, but at a very low cost.
3. what is needed to prototype a product?
Different materials are used and they do not resemble the final product. Their advantage is that they are cheap, simple and easy to produce.
Prototyping a product connects us to other interesting issues. One of them is knowing how to apply the power of execution and a very particular way of working: that of executing in order to think.
The prototype of a product does not need to have all the functionalities we aspire to achieve. these are incorporated as the user demands them or when there are important tests for the development of a product or service.
4. why prototyping?
Prototyping or the development of a prototype is the fourth phase in a process of Design Thinking and people-centered innovation.
It is the moment in which makers with skills to “land” ideas and work with their hands make the design of a product prototype, to make tangible the proposals that have emerged during the planning of a project.
This “landing of ideas” will allow the user not only to imagine proposals, but also to touch them. Therefore, design thinking and its relevance in product prototyping is essential to implement an action-oriented methodology.
Some of the advantages of a Design Thinking process to know how to make a prototype are:
Its ability to move us forward.
The convergence of all the ideas that have been worked on.
The creation of a tangible reality that can be built in different ways depending on the product prototype that is being made.
The possibility of carrying out tests that include Design Thinking with prototyping and user testing.
5. when to prototype a product?
Learning by doing is the motto of user-centered designers or UX designers and one of the current educational trends. Thanks to, for example, the basics of UX/UI design or the application of usability testing, you get user feedback as quickly as possible.
So, it is important that you prototype a product when you feel it is ready to be tested (initial prototype) or when you want to launch your product or service (final prototype).
The prototype of a product or service helps to:
Test and validate new ideas quickly.
Understand the keys to user interaction.
Improve the userexperience and iterate on it.
Demonstrate the capability of a product (demoing).
Validate the detail of the appearance design: define the purpose of sizes, colors, shades, etc.
There are many ways to prototype a product, it depends on the type of idea you have. As the construction of a product or service prototype is not the same, let’s look at some examples.
Types of product prototypes
As you’ve noticed, developing prototypes for a product is a practical and “inexpensive” way to test hypotheses about the feasibility of a product or service.
When you think of how to make a prototype, it is likely that only a certain type of prototype comes to mind. However, in the product design process, there are three different types of prototypes, each tailored to different scenarios or situations.
It is essential to approach product prototypes from two points:
what do they explore?
how do they evolve and what is their outcome?
On the first point, referring to exploration, there are two main classes of prototypes:
A behavioral prototype, which, as the name suggests, focuses on exploring specific system responses or behaviors.
A structural prototype, which explores some technological and architectural aspects.
The second point, which involves evolution and results, also identifies two classes of prototypes:
An exploratory prototype, which is discarded when it is finished, also known as a scrap prototype.
An evolutionary prototype, which gradually evolves into the real system.
Source: Made by a Sidecar
1. Iterative prototyping
One of the design techniques focused mainly on user experience is iterative prototyping. This method consists in the creation of a prototype starting from the product design.
Designers select a group of users to test the usability and functionality of the prototype, and then the product development team reviews and evaluates the results. After testing of the prototype is completed, the researchers redesign a new model for further testing, hence the name iterative prototyping.
Iterative product or service prototyping is a method that allows you to quickly identify complex design-related problems, however, creating many prototypes throughout the process can lead to budget problems if too many tests are run.
2. Parallel prototyping
The second of the prototyping types we will teach you about in this section is parallel prototyping, a method that relies on creating and comparing different design concepts of the same product simultaneously before a physical prototype is produced.
After the design teams develop their concepts independently or not, they are compared and the best of each is chosen for prototyping. Building parallel prototypes is useful when projects are large, as they often have the potential to face high risk factors.
Although the parallel prototyping technique offers ample opportunities to unleash creativity, it can be costly due to multiple factors: human resource, raw materials, etc. So it is advisable that you consider the product or service you want to introduce to the market and what is the best type of prototype that will allow you to get where you want to go.
3. Rapid prototyping
Recently, a method of product design prototyping that combines some of the characteristics of iterative prototyping with the use of technology, rapid prototyping, has proliferated. This technique takes advantage of 2D and 3D software, such as CAD design software, and 3D printing for prototyping processes.
The ease of data transfer between a computer and a 3D printer offers unimaginable advantages in prototyping a product. You can develop usability and functionality tests quickly, effectively and economically.
And while prototyping a product with the above methods also proves to be effective, rapid prototyping can create a new product model in a very short time and accelerate time to market.
So you may be wondering:what type of prototyping is best for my design?actually, to say that one prototyping method is better than the previous one is somewhat subjective, since factors such as: the type of company, the product characteristics and the possibilities of the construction come into play.
However, as we had mentioned, speed, price and effectiveness of the technology are determining factors when choosing the right prototyping method for your product.
Product prototype versus minimum viable product
The difference between a product prototype and a minimum viable product or MVP is that a product prototype is a proof of concept that analyzes the feasibility of the solution.
On the other hand, an MVP is the materialization of the value proposition with the minimum possible functionality.
Most product prototypes are designed to answer questions such as can we build it; and an MVP must always answer the question what have we validated or invalidated?
Prototyping is not just about presenting a “sneak peek” of your product. It is, in essence, about showing your audience your idea in reality.
For this purpose, there are 4 categories into which you can classify your prototype:
1. Visual prototype
The visual prototype is one in which the purpose is to show the public the size and dimensions of the final product. Mainly, in terms of aesthetic proportions, size and weight of the item in question.
It does not serve to demonstrate the functionality of the product, not even the materials with which it will be marketed. It may even include materials that will not be those of the final model (a 3D digital model even serves as a visual prototype!).
2. Proof of concept
Here we have the opposite of the visual prototype: the proof of concept is a model that is intended to demonstrate the feasibility of the product and how it works.
Generally, a proof of concept uses materials that are readily available. The aim is not to demonstrate the full functionality of the item by any stretch of the imagination, but to demonstrate how feasible the realization of the product can be.
3. Prototype presentation
Here we find a version of the product that is prepared and ready to be presented. In this case, it looks similar to the final product and is functional.
It is the prototype that is usually shown to investors and potential customers, so that they have a notion of the final result. And, of course, it seeks to use customized materials and manufacturing techniques.
4. Pre-production prototype
For this type of category, we are dealing with a modified variant of the presentation prototype. Basically, they have a similar functionality to those mentioned above, although they are built based on production-ready materials and techniques.
It is this type of prototype that is usually the benchmark for establishing how the same item should be mass produced.
If you think that the prototype categories look more like “stages”, you may be right. However, it may be the case that a product does not always go through one of these categories.
You can go from a proof of concept made with tape and paper to a prototype ready for mass production.
As you can see, the categories of a product prototype mainly go through two issues: complexity and function. Depending on your item, it will be up to you to decide what you want to show investors and potential buyers. What we do remind you is that it is an important resource, which will serve to consolidate your idea as something tangible and real.
how do you test a product prototype?
While it is true that the prototyping methodology allows companies to save large amounts of money, it is equally important to understand that it is not only about how to make a prototype, but also how to test the prototype of a product. is it really going to work and meet the expected objectives?
In this sense, the prototype should convey exactly what the product or service will do, as well as what it will look like in the end so that you can get the rightfeedback from stakeholders. This step should not involve a lot of time or the resources you would need to build the actual final product.
For example, let’s say you are in the fashion industry. If you want to launch a new clothing line, then here you should ask yourself two fundamental questions to test your product prototype: What will be its function? what will be its shape?
Of course, you can always turn to a designer who specializes in product prototyping for testing. What he or she will do is look for models to test the new designs and draw their conclusions. Logically, it will be an investment expense that you may prefer to avoid. So how do you test a product prototype without having to seek expert opinion in the first place?
A good starting point for assessing the effectiveness of a product prototype, in this case, is to look to yourself and your own social circle. Sometimes, we are looking outside for answers when we actually have them within ourselves. Try your first prototypes yourself.
Ask yourself if you would wear the clothing line you want to launch. If the product prototype passes the first step, then you’re ready for the next step: testing it with your trusted friends and family. And we mention trust because we know that we don’t always get totally constructive criticism from everyone.
Now, before you present a product prototype to your trusted selection, prepare questions that will help you get their views. During the process, you can ask the following questions:
do you like this product? yes or no? why do you like it?
what do you like about it?
what would you change? Mention at least 3 features, maximum 5.
would you use it?
when would you use it?
would you recommend it? who would you recommend it to?
would you prefer it to other similar products on the market? why do you prefer it?
do you think it is necessary?
what defects do you find in the product?
how do I know if my prototype is ready?
While the idea of prototyping a product is to subject it to lengthy testing in order to make improvement decisions, there will be a point in the prototyping process when you will have to make a final decision.
Remember that the purpose of a prototype is to prevent any failures after it has been released. However, you will agree that it is also important to know when our product is really ready.
After tireless months of trials and tests, the time has come when your prototype will no longer be a prototype but finally become a final product. Functionality details have been fine-tuned and you have an optimal product design for the user. what’s next?
A product prototype that is truly ready to go to market offers the following features:
The problem that was posed at the outset was solved.
The result obtained meets or exceeds expectations.
It makes an important difference compared to similar products in the market.
It is the best alternative to the competition because of its added value.
Although it is not easy to find an exact answer on how to know if the prototype of a product is ready to be launched to the market, we have mentioned some of the key points that you should take into account. In short, design processes are different for each product. Ultimately, everything will depend on the users’ experience with the final result. We can only recommend you to always aim for an improved experience in any of your product or service prototypes.
Steps to make a product prototype
Once you understand what a product prototype is, moving on to its creation starts with the concept you are looking to materialize. To carry out this task, let’s first see what is needed to make a prototype and then the steps to make a product prototype.
Once you have defined the type of product prototype that will be most useful to you, based on the views you have chosen (what they explore and how they evolve), you must select the materials needed to prototype a product or service.
Paper prototype: consists of a sketch or drawing. In English it is called “sketching” and allows to make a flow of the user’s interaction with the product. A good idea to know how to make a prototype is to use graphics or maps to focus your ideas, organize them and draw the right conclusions. Mind maps, for example, can be of great help to help you in this process, so we invite you to download and use these mind map templates with which you can organize the phases of a prototype and not lose your way in its execution.
Digital prototyping: this is something that costs a little more effort than paper prototyping, but it will help you to delve deeper into how to design digital products, attending to the design of the product appearance. This type of product prototyping, above all, will allow you to validate the reactions of potential customers, since you will show them something with a realistic look, making them believe that it is a real product.
Native prototype: this is very desirable in case of apps, since if we really want to give the user the feeling that it is a good app, we must include within the prototype the interaction with the device (gyroscope, accelerometer, speakers, camera, microphone and GPS) that simulate a realistic experience.
1. Make a sketch
The purpose of this phase is to have a diagram that visually captures what you have in mind. You can use low resolution materials (cardboard, plasticine, Legos, among others) or high resolution, such as a 3D image or a video.
A sketch should show the finished product, the materials used, its dimensions and its operation.
2. Create a 3D model
Although any available material can be used, this version provides several advantages. Through a 3D model you can visualize the prototype in a better way, modify it according to the result of the tests, make the necessary iterations until the ideal design is obtained and use product prototyping applications such as Figma or Adobe XD.
3. Perform proof of concept
In this part you build the product from the sketch, 3D image or diagram. It does not matter if it does not resemble the finished object, since the objective is to make the product prototype functional.
4. To seek to solve the problem posed
Before moving on to the final prototype, you must make sure that the model is a viable solution. Don’t worry about failed attempts, because these will give you several clues on how to move forward, either by reformulating the idea or discarding it.
5. Run iterations
Once you figure out the proper functioning of your product roadmap, the next step is to find the most efficient and marketable version. Ask yourself what could be improved, seek outside help or consult with acquaintances about the performance of your product prototype.
6. Conduct experiments
It is essential to do all the necessary tests to confirm that the solution really works as expected. Rely on different validation methods or consider co-creations in which potential users give you feedback.
7. Launch the final prototype
After validation of performance, good user experience and testing, it’s time to launch your product prototype!
This advanced stage requires more time, investment and cannot be tied to radical changes in product performance. Do as much testing as it takes so you don’t have to start from scratch.
Tips for product prototyping
We know that making a prototype from scratch can be complicated if you are a novice so, from here, we offer you the necessary tools so that the process can flow in the best way.
To make the process of making a product prototype can flow in the best possible way, follow the following tips:
1. Research your potential audience
This is key when creating a prototype. You must know your potential customer in depth: the target audience you want to reach with your product.
If you do not know this person’s profile, you will have a hard time responding to your customer’s demands and your final product may end up going unnoticed in the market. The worst plan in the world.
Knowing your customer’s needs is the first step for any project you decide to undertake. Even if you are only going to present a prototype example.
2. Conceptualize your project
The idea of the prototype is to respond to a need, to an idea that comes from the depths of your mind (or the minds of your team). So you can appeal to tools such as the following:
Once you have conceptualized your prototype, don’t be afraid to experiment and address how to shape your final product. Ask yourself questions that your article will answer, propose a hypothesis and choose the best way to measure your results.
3. Design a list of key features
You will not be able to avoid that your final product manages to gather all the features you had thought for it at the beginning, since there may be certain material and cost restrictions that require you to cut several features that are out of your initial budget.
When designing your first product prototype, you will have to divide the features into 3 categories, which we will mention below:
Necessary: those features that are essential for the proper functioning of the product.
Moderately necessary: those features that are important for your product to stand out from the rest, but are not essential for it to work properly.
Unnecessary: the most superficial features of the item and that contribute little beyond their aesthetics or visual appeal.
From here , we recommend that your product prototype has as many visual features as possible.
4. Sign Non Disclosure Agreements and file patent applications
By the time you are developing your product prototype, it is likely that you may need a team to work on the project: a mechanic, 3D modeler, prototype designer….
The issue is that, if your idea is revolutionary, you may suffer a possible intellectual property theft. And end up seeing your final product being developed by another company or a private individual.
can you avoid this? Yes, absolutely. To avoid any copy or counterfeit of your articles, you can do any of the following actions:
Make a patent application for your idea and product design.
Ask your prototype development team to sign non-disclosure agreements (also known as NDAs).
If you have no idea how to apply for a patent or are unclear about the procedure, we recommend that you choose to get a patent attorney, so that you avoid any bad feelings about the leakage of your product prototype.
5. Take into consideration the costs
When creating the prototype, it is very common that it is difficult to balance the cost-utility ratio. You want the product to stand out for its functionality, but the idea is not to sell it at an exorbitant price, in order to achieve higher sales.
If you only create exclusive and unattainable items for 95% of people, it is very likely that your product prototype will fail. And since we want to save you a hard time, we recommend that you ask yourself this question during the design of the project:
Is this stage in which the design is, is it necessary?
what would be the most economical material to be able to manufacture the product, without losing its usefulness?
It is not the same to design a product using plastic than if you use metal. Keep this information in mind when you decide to design your product.
6. Use general manufacturing techniques
The steps that exist between the product prototype and the final version of your item often involve procedures that, in the long run, generate cost overruns.
what do we mean by this information? When manufacturing your product, factories usually use an industry-standard technique. However, what if your product cannot be designed with the company’s manufacturing techniques?
That the factory will have to implement custom techniques, as well as train its staff to learn how to do them. And this, unfortunately, can increase the production cost of your final product.
To avoid these pitfalls, consider the type of manufacturing procedure for each part of your prototype product. If you notice that any of the features of your item involve an excessively customized production technique, you should consider eliminating it (as far as possible).
If you need advice on the subject, you can seek an expert, such as a mechanic or a prototype designer.
7. Study your competition
To position yourself in the market with your prototype (in any type of market), you should take a look at what your competitors are doing to see what the public is demanding and to better understand the functionality of a specific item
Note, we are not talking about plagiarism. We mainly mean that you should look at your competitors’ products, study their designs and materials and visualize their advantages and disadvantages in order to apply them to your product prototype.
This way you will know how you can improve the public’s demand and, in addition, you will acquire ideas that will be useful for the development of your final product.
Examples of innovative product prototypes
Shopping with your DNA, eating meat-free meat, training your brain to sleep better or activating electronic devices with your thoughts are some of the tasks we can already perform.
It’s all due to the technological advances with which the technology fair held annually in Las Vegas has surprised us.
Below, we share some examples of product prototypes to inspire you to create your own.
1. Prototype of a technological product
DNA Band, the smart bracelet that tells you what you should and shouldn’t eat based on your DNA
It features a sensor capable of reading nutritional information from food ingredients, processing it and applying it to the wearer’s DNA.
Source: PC Mag
2. Prototype of a food product
Pork without pork!
Made from the hemoglobin found in soybean plants, this new proposal developed by Impossible Foods perfectly mimics the texture and taste of pork.
3. Prototype of a mass consumer product
Television with “rollable” screen
LG will launch its Signature OLED TV R on the market, with a base that stores the 65-inch flexible screen and allows you to enjoy 4K-quality images.
Intelligent skin care system
A device capable of creating customized formulas for creams, makeup and lipsticks thanks to real-time assessment of skin condition, air quality, pollution and consumer trends.
4. Prototype of a product to innovate that solves a social problem
System to recycle and reuse water at home
Hydraloop cleans, disinfects and recycles 85% of the water we use at home. Thus, for example, the water we use in the shower or washing machine can be reused to flush the toilet or water the garden. It reduces water consumption and the emission of wastewater, as well as the carbon footprint and the use of water and electricity.
An excellent system to include in any sustainable architecture project.
Source: WWWhat’s New.
Trends in product design
good! Up to this point you already know what a prototype is and how to prototype a product. Now, it’s time to know what are the product design trends that are taking center stage lately, in order to know the approaches that companies are implementing in their market objectives.
1. Products with a human stamp
In recent years, product designs consisted in the use of characters for the development of prototypes. Both visual identity and packaging design include human figures in their presentations. The reason? To generate a more direct connection between the brand and consumers through identifying elements.
For this reason, if you are thinking of developing a prototype, try to use animated characters that accompany your graphic identity and that can connect with your target audience. We share with you a couple of examples in packaging design and UI design.
Source: Silvia Abruzzese
Source: Vinoth on Dribbble
2. Eco-sustainable products
Beyond being a trend in product design, developing environmentally friendly objects has become a necessity for society. When you are learning how to design the stages of a prototype, it is essential that you consider the possibility of using eco-friendly materials in your products and take into account their origin.
At the same time, you should think ahead and evaluate the final cycle of your project in order to have a positive impact on the environment or, if possible, make the materials reusable.
An innovative product example can be identified in brands such as Beeswax Wrap, a company in charge of designing plastic-free food wrappers with different super attractive designs.
Another interesting fact: Did you know that the toy industry is one of the industries that uses the most plastic for its products? Fortunately, there are companies like Green Toys that have gained recognition for their way of knowing how to create the prototype of a product based on recycled materials.
We share with you a couple of images of the aforementioned:
Source: The Simple Things
Source: Toy Notes
3. Products compatible with augmented reality
It is no secret that augmented reality, although it has been years since its launch, has not yet been fully exploited. However, the potential of this technological tool is so great that you can consider it to design the prototype of a product and enrich its use.
The purpose is to optimize your customers’ experience with a product through a technology that, in most cases, is within everyone’s reach. In fact, there have been numerous brands that have been encouraged to use augmented reality for product design, such as Zara or Ikea, although they have gone unnoticed.
For this reason, when you are developing the step by step of a prototype, consider using this tool to provide your customers with experiences that go beyond purchasing a product or looking at a catalog.
An example of this can be found in the Estiluz brand, a company that develops lighting objects. Its proposal consisted of using augmented reality to allow its customers to visualize a product in real size in any space in their homes. Undoubtedly, this is an example of how to create the prototype of a product thinking about optimizing the user experience.
We hope we have been helpful in clarifying a little more what a product prototype is, its features and specifications. Hopefully these brief steps will help you with your product strategy, its development and you will be able to offer the product or service you have exactly in your head.