Rapid Prototyping – A Beginners Guide

Picture the moment; your team have come up with a ground-breaking new concept product. It’s going to be the game changer. It features all the USP’s you could hope for; the concept is immense – it’ll take your business to the next level. Your MD says “Great stuff – let’s move this thing forward!” But what next? What about the ‘What if’s’ and ‘How do we knows’? What if the design is on point, but there is no room for the right technology to squeeze inside? What if the product can do the 10 things we want it to do, but it operates really slowly and isn’t therefore competitive in the market? What don’t we know about this product…yet? Enter, Rapid Prototyping.

What is Rapid Prototyping?

This part of the design process, Rapid Prototyping, is all about ensuring that you have tested your concept for best success when it comes to production, and ultimately therefore, when it comes to taking it to market. By engaging the right team to test your product, you will come out of this experience with the answer to all, or at least most of your questions; a wise person once said “Each time you create a prototype you will, or should, learn something new.” The overall concept is simple; start with a low-cost way to prototype your product, then as you move the project forward with each iteration, you should be moving closer to a production quality prototype.

‘Works-Like’, ‘Looks-Like’, Sounds-Like…

So how do you know what’s most important to you and your future customers? Do we test the design of it first? Is the look and feel, the bleeding edge, future-award-winning-design element that is going to give us the best success in the market? Or is it the Apple-style intuitive user interface and seamless functionality that’s going to make this product stand out? The answer is, it’s probably a combination of both, but the most common approach is to make a call, decide which holds the most value for this particular product, and away we go.

The above considerations are known as two different prototypes; The ‘looks-like’ prototype and the ‘works-like’ prototype. The ‘looks-like’ prototype, as the name suggests, focuses on the feel, form and aesthetics of the product. The types of techniques that may be used to produce a ‘looks-like’ prototype include 3D printing, CNC machining and at the point in the process that you’re ready, injection moulding.

The ‘works-like’ prototype focuses on how the product functions. The key purpose of a ‘works-like’ prototype is to understand and resolve any technical challenges that may hinder the way the product performs. Today we’re usually developing products with an electronic element, so ‘works-like’ testing will often include utilising development kids like Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and will involve techniques like bread boarding (to those not in the know, this is a technique used for solderless circuit design, giving you plenty of room for re-working). Together, this creates a Proof-of-Concept (POC) prototype where the main aim is to demonstrate the fundamental functionality of the concept product.

You will promptly need to migrate to the development of a custom PCB (Printed Circuit Board), making it possible to merge functionality and form into a ‘works-like-looks-like’ prototype.

Quick Summary

To re-cap, whether you start with a looks-like or a works-like prototype will depend on your specific product and which aspect has the greatest number of questions and risk attached to it. If the look and feel of your product is especially critical then you’ll probably want to start with a ‘looks-like’ prototype. On the other hand, if you are unsure of any technical aspects of your product then you may find it best to start with a ‘works-like’ prototype.
If both aspects are equally critical then you will need to work on both separately, but simultaneously. For products without any big unknowns related to aesthetics or functionality, it’s better to jump right into creating a ‘works-like-looks-like’ prototype.

Your final prototyping goal is to achieve a production-quality prototype that will be identical to your final, mass manufactured product.

What Next?

We hope this article has been helpful in explaining the basic concept of Rapid Prototyping, as well as the basic considerations you will need to discuss with your team, when it comes to testing your new product. To find out more about the specific processes involved in Rapid Prototyping check back for our next blog in this series ‘Rapid Prototyping – The Next Level Detail’.

If however you need your questions answered today, then do not hesitate to contact our team of design experts, who will be able to discuss next steps for your product design masterpiece. Get in touch now at contact@conficio.design or call us on 0117 313 1458.

Want to know more? Have a look at our blog post “Rapid Prototyping – The Next Level Detail”.

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