How to Create a Prototype in 6 Steps (Plus Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When companies want to develop, manufacture and release new products, it's important that they thoroughly research, plan and test them to ensure they meet their requirements. Building a prototype can help businesses refine their designs and ensure their ideas are achievable. Understanding more about what prototypes are and learning about the process for creating one can help you prepare and build a prototype for the company you work for. In this article, we explain how to create a prototype, discuss the different kinds of prototypes and share some tips and benefits of having a prototype of a product.

What is a prototype?

A prototype is a model of an idea that a business intends to produce and sell. A prototype allows companies to measure feasibility, test features and present proposals to investors and stakeholders. They may also refer to the prototype during production to ensure that the specifications are correct. Here are some of the kinds of prototypes you can build:

  • Visual prototype: A visual prototype captures the appearance of the product, but it might not include all of its functions.

  • Presentation prototype: This is a common kind of prototype that aims to show all stakeholders what the product looks like and how it works.

  • Pre-production prototype: Pre-production prototypes are refined models that companies can use as a reference for manufacturing.

Related: What Is Design Thinking? (Plus Principles and Stages)

How to create a prototype

Learn how to create a prototype by following these steps:

1. Ascertain the specifications of the product

Determine the basic details of the product, like its size, materials and functions. Performing market research to learn about and compare competitors' products can provide you with useful information. Thinking about the target customer's needs, lifestyle and budget can also help you develop the product. Thorough research and analysis can help you create a prototype that's useful, realistic, competitive and profitable.

Related: What Is Ideation? Tips for a Successful Creative Process

2. Sketch a design

Draft a sketch that effectively captures the basic idea. The sketch can include details such as the size, dimensions, materials and functions. You can draw it by hand or with computer-aided drafting (CAD) software. Some professionals choose to create two sketches. One is a design sketch, which represents the ideal finished product, and the other is a technical drawing, which focuses on the production details.

Related: 19 Types of CAD Software: Definition, Lists and Benefits

3. Transform the sketch into a 3D model

You can create a 3D model of the prototype using design software. This enables you to refine details like dimensions, angles and materials. Having a 3D model can also help you communicate plans to key stakeholders more effectively.

4. Develop a proof of concept

A proof of concept is a simplified version of an idea that tests plans and ensures the product can achieve company targets. It's typically a less sophisticated representation of an idea, so focus on making it work rather than visually appealing. During this stage, you might decide which features to include and which to remove. You can also experiment with different materials to determine those that best suit the product. Showing a proof of concept to partners and investors helps demonstrate the feasibility of the plan.

5. Build the prototype

Next, create a physical model of the product, complete with all its features and functionalities. You can use technology such as 3D printing or computer numerical control machining to create the model. If you're building a large-scale item like an aeroplane or car, the final prototype may be virtual due to cost and space limitations.

Related: What Does a Product Developer Do? Definitions and Examples

6. Adjust the prototype

Once you've presented the prototype to stakeholders and tested it for functionality and safety, you can refine it. During this phase, you can solve challenges, strengthen safety measures and enhance the product's appearance. This improves the final product and informs plans ahead of production. Additionally, repeating and updating market research at this stage can help the company you work for to remain competitive.

Tips for creating a prototype

Below are some tips that may be helpful when creating a prototype:

Be mindful of the budget

It's beneficial to prepare a clear budget before creating a prototype. Determining the available resources and limitations helps you establish realistic expectations and scale plans appropriately. Considering the target audience can also inform company spending. For example, if the goal is to create a competitively priced product, it's important to keep the production costs low. Alternatively, developing a luxury good for high-income consumers may require more expensive materials.

Protect intellectual property

When developing a new idea, it's important to safeguard any innovations. If you involve third parties in the design, consider taking legal precautions to ensure that they keep all information confidential. Patents, non-disclosure agreements and lawyers can protect property and interests.

Be flexible

Plans can change at any time, so remain open-minded. Factors such as feedback from stakeholders and market conditions can make companies rethink their plans. Many businesses repeat the sketching and modelling steps until they have a product that meets their goals and their users' needs. The final prototype might be different from the product they initially envisioned, so staying flexible helps them to improve their designs.

Benefits of creating a prototype

Creating a prototype is an important step towards ensuring a product's success because it can provide you with key information about an idea. Some other benefits of prototypes include:

Testing a product's functionality

Building a model of a product can help you determine whether it functions as you intend it to. After testing the creation using a prototype, you can determine whether it works well enough to warrant a business investing more time and money into it. Testing can also help you make adjustments to ensure optimal performance and high customer satisfaction.

Saving money before production

Creating one or two prototypes is typically a less expensive process than mass-producing a product without testing it first. This is because a prototype allows you to perfect the design before a business spends money on production. It also reduces the potential of recall due to defects.

Presenting a product to investors

Using a prototype when approaching investors shows them what the product aims to accomplish and how well it works. Presenting the idea with a prototype also provides you with the opportunity to answer any questions investors might have. Prototypes can help convince shareholders that the product is useful and worth their investment.

Related: Angel Investors: Types, Advantages and Disadvantages

Determining a product's utility

Another effective practice when creating a product is allowing members of the target market to use the prototype. This can help you determine whether they find the product useful. You can gather their feedback to learn more about what they like about the product and what might require improvement. With this feedback, you can create an even better prototype or advance towards mass-producing the product.

Highlighting the appropriate materials to use

When you generate an idea for a product, you also determine the materials you require and create a draft of the future product's structure. With a prototype, you can then take your idea and discover how to create a better product at a lower cost. For example, the prototype might help you realise that changing the shape or fastening parts together differently can make the product sturdier.

Talking about a product more clearly

When you speak to investors, manufacturers and distributors about a product, they might have particular questions about its dimension, weight, mobility and other aspects. Developing a prototype can provide you with specific, clear answers to their questions. These details then assist external parties in deciding whether to invest in the final product.

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