What You Need to Know Before Prototyping Your Idea

November 9, 2017

10:50 am

You’ve conceptualized the idea, drawn it up, even tinkered with some supplies, but now it’s time to begin building a prototype for your product and take it out into the world.

If you’re not the handiest person or are just starting your DIY journey, we have some tips from experts in prototyping about what you need to know before embarking on building your prototype to show investors.

Have a Purpose and Plan

Before you put a lot of time, effort and money into this product, make sure you have an end goal in mind.

Will Vatis, president and founder of Gizmatic, said, “A lot of people rush into this and end up making something they shouldn’t have, and waist a lot of time and money. They should know what their end goal is, [whether it be] owning their own company, licensing off the technology [or] just to making something for fun.”

Having a purpose for your product is too an important thread in this journey.

Olivia Morgan of TechShop said, “Consider why are you making this prototype. [Also,] doing market testing before you begin physical prototyping can be key. You do not want to invest time and money in product that no one wants to buy.”

It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

Many times founders will spend more than ample time tinkering with the product and delay showing people until it’s perfect. But that might not be necessary for people to understand your concept.

Olivia said, “The most effective prototypes usually do not have a high finish quality, but can get the idea of your product across effectively. All it has to do is explain your idea. The hard part is following through with getting the product to market.”

It’ll Take Longer Than You Think

If you are working with a smaller budget then you’ll need to prepare for a longer timeline. Even then, unexpected twists and turns will come up during the process.

Will said, “Time is an issue, it almost always takes much longer than you think. Also, the product may not work well at first or may need major redesign. It’s uncommon to get it right on the first try – that’s one of the big reasons you prototype after all.”

The Design Will Change

More often than not, your original idea will morph into something else.

Olivia said, “The design process in prototyping needs to be iterative. Often my original design ideas do not make it to the final product. It is not always easy to tell what will and will not work in the final product as far as functionality. I could design a product digitally, but I will not know for sure if it works until I make a physical prototype.”

Quality = Cost

If you are looking to create a high-quality prototype, be prepared to spend some money. However, there are some ways to save money.

The cost to prototype a finished, near production quality product will likely be very high ($10,000+). It doesn’t always have to be expensive though,” Will said. “If you don’t need a high quality finish and just want to test function, it will save you money.”

Other ways to save money would be to join a maker shop, such as TechShop that has over a $1 million worth of equipment as well as classes and in-house mentors to help you along.

Will said, “You can get started with formal classes, internet tutorials, advice from others, etc. But in the end you just have to dive in and get dirty actually doing it to really get good.”

Find a Mentor

There are so many benefits to having a mentor guide you through the process and gain knowledge from someone who has been there, done that. Whichever route you go, make sure to find people that can help you from concept to market phase, and beyond.

“I would not be in product design or prototyping without mentorship. It would never have occurred to me to use my model building skill set in this field had I not been given encouragement by those already doing it,” Olivia said.

Read more about new gadgets on TechCo

The article was brought to you in partnership with Arlington Economic Development. 


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Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.