Robyn Townsend

How to build a good prototype

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I get to prototype new ideas for businesses every day. But what is a good prototype and how do you build one?
Developing a prototype can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of developing a new product. It gives you the opportunity to be inspired and use your creativity!

What is a prototype?

A prototype is an early sample or build of a product that is made to test an idea or a process.
With this in mind when building your initial prototype it's rarely necessary to make something that's fully functional. Usually, you only need to create the necessary features to test your concept and learn how to improve.

Start with a sketch

When you begin you will have a lot of ideas about how your new product or process might look. Get them down on paper, think about how you people might use your product and what problem you want it to solve.
At this stage define your problem statement. What is the challenge you hope to resolve?

Keep it simple

Whenever you develop something new it is usually best to make the most basic version of it you can. The goal is to assess if your idea is any good.
Building the simplest version will take less time and effort. This is known as a minimum viable product (MVP).
The reason for this is that you want to test the core principles and gather feedback quickly. Otherwise, you run the risk of lots of time developing features that may prove to be unnecessary.
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Once you have decided on your core features now its time to build!
You will come across challenges now that didn't occur to you in the planning stage. Experiment with different ways to solve these issues. Look for other perspectives and get creative!
If there is a feature you are struggling with, ask yourself why that feature important? Is it needed? Have you made assumptions about how it should be created?
There are lots of resources you can use to help build. For example CAD programs like Fusion 360, which you can access free for personal use. Or Balsamiq for prototyping user interfaces.
However, as exciting, as it is to use high tech approaches this is not always accessible or affordable. Remember you are just trying to test your concept. Therefore simple paper prototypes and other low-fi approaches can be just as valuable!
Once you have tested your initial concept you can explore methods of manufacturing.


Got your first build ready to go?
Now its time to get some feedback.
Get your product into the hands of your target audience.
Friends and family are great but in my experience, they tend to be biased (sorry mum).
Try and get some impartial opinions from a range of people. LinkedIn can be a great tool to find people to help you test.
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Take some time to go through all the feedback.
Did the testers use the product in the way you thought they would? Did your product solve their problem or create new ones?
What features do the users like the best?
What features would they improve?
Use this information to make adjustments to your design.


Now its time to fine-tune!
Repeat the process to fine-tune your prototype.
You can go through multiple iterations until its ready for manufacture and launch.
However, try and avoid looking for the "perfect" product. You don't want to get stuck in a cycle of endless development. Few things are totally flawless and you can always improve a product later if needed.
Once you have your first prototype done if you are wondering what to do next? It might be time to hire some professionals. The journey from idea to manufacturing can be costly. Especially if you have dreams of producing at a large scale.
Consider approaching a local manufacturer or university to ensure it is optimised for production. Often Universities will have programmes that support local innovation. They can be an excellent way of getting access to high-end equipment and professional advice to help you take your next steps.