Did you hear about Microsoft's Zune flop?
The portable music player didn't live up to customer's needs. A lack of design and viable prototypes caused a product to go out that's failed miserably. The Zune began retailing at $250, but now it's barely worth $80 if you can even find a buyer.
Product design is an expensive process, requiring the use of many different materials to create a viable prototype. The materials and tools used in product design are designed with one goal in mind: to improve the user experience! Once a prototype goes into production, all changes must be minor ones—and costly ones at that! If you want to avoid using the wrong prototype materials, then this article's for you!
Read on to learn about the ultimate list of materials for making prototypes.
1. Making Foam Prototypes
First, on our list of prototype materials, let's talk about foam! Foam is a very versatile material. It can be used to make anything from toys to furniture, and even house insulation! Engineers often use foam for quick prototypes because it's easy to cut out shapes and modify them.
The downside of using foam as a prototype material is that it needs additives to take on the properties of more durable materials like metal or plastic. These additives are not always available at your local hardware store—and if they are, you may end up having an unpleasant experience with skin irritation due to contact with harsh chemicals (think toxic glue!).
Tips for Making Foam Prototypes
You'll want to use a foam that is the same density as your product. Foam will compress easily. Use something durable like PET or polyurethane pellets to make life easier for yourself if you have access to them. This method works well with larger products such as furniture and pillows where compression won't be too noticeable on the final prototype model. You can also use a blend of materials, such as foam and wood.
However, you'll need to prepare thoroughly. Identify all of your needs beforehand - what form does it need to take, how many parts do you want? Keep these in mind when making decisions about the size and material choice! If it's going to be made out of wood and foam, try using thinner boards first before switching up materials (i.e., plywood) this way you'll know exactly how much wood. If it's going to be made solely out of foam, try making a smaller prototype first and get feedback before you make the final design.
A good way to save on materials for prototypes is to use leftover scraps, pieces of cardboard, or any other random material you have lying around. If it's going to be made with foam and wood, try using scrap pieces of metal (i.e., old bed frames) that can act as a mold in place of the original piece/pieces this will allow you to make one-offs without having to buy new supplies! You can also check out everything you need to know about metal prototype fabrication online, before trying your hand at it.
Trial and Error
The general rule when making anything out of foam is always "trial and error". Make sure your design has enough room for an opening so that excess glue doesn't seep into the cracks. Start by cutting your form (either from a sheet of foam or cardboard) and stick it on the surface you're going to make. Decide how many parts there will be, take measurements for each part, and cut them out with an X-Acto knife. Be careful not to cut yourself!
Once all pieces are cut out, start assembling the prototype in layers using either white glue or hot glue. Add as much pressure as necessary; use clamps if needed.
2. Carboard Prototypes
Next on our list of prototype materials, we have cardboard. Cardboard has become one of the go-to prototyping materials in recent years. This happened mainly because cardboard lends to a variety of needs and budgets. Cardboard is easy to find at most stores, even ones like Walmart or Target which have their craft sections. The best way to get the correct size for your project is with some simple measuring and cutting.
Next, find out how many pieces you need by looking up the measurements of your board in cubic inches (Length x Width x Height). This will be converted into feet so that it's easier on yourself! It's also important to have a ruler that you can use in both centimeters and inches because there are many sources for cardboard laying around in your home.
Once you've measured the size of each piece, cut out all of them with a box cutter or knife. If there is any extra material on one side, just tuck it under another part when assembling the board!
Assemble Your Prototype
After cutting out the individual pieces of cardboard, what's next? Take your pieces of cardboard and decide how many you want to assemble into a prototype. Use the hot glue gun to put together all sides, one at a time, securing corners by pressing them down with your fingers or another piece of cardboard.
Do this for each side until it's done! You can also use staples if you prefer that method instead of hot glue (I would recommend using both). All four sides should be finished in this way before moving on to step three below.
3. When Should You Use a 3D Printed Prototype?
Moving on, let's talk about when you should use a 3D printer to make your prototypes. To be completely upfront, 3D printed prototypes are pricey. However, one of the biggest mistakes companies make before a product launch is failing to invest enough upfront!
Spending your money on a printer for prototyping is something that you should only consider if it's a necessity, and there are many other methods out there - ranging from sculpting with Sculpy or Play-Doh to paper prototypes that can be cut out by hand or even drawn in Adobe Illustrator.
If you need an exact model of how the final product will look and feel before production begins, then a prototype made via additive manufacturing may be worth considering as one of your options. The major advantages include being able to hold the finished object in your hands right away (versus waiting weeks for an injection mold), having tangible feedback when testing features such as fit and use.
Benefits of Using 3D Printed Prototypes
Why go with a 3D printed prototype? They're fast and cheap to make. With a 3D prototype, you can create it in hours and days. You don't need to wait for weeks or buy expensive tools. All you need is a printer!
When your product needs just minor tweaks, it's much more cost-effective to print out additional prototypes instead of making changes on an existing one. In this way, each iteration serves as a new prototype - so there’s no wasted effort if the design doesn’t work with these adjustments. If not using this method then any failed iterations would be scrapped which costs time and resources...
Efficient Prototyping Methods Discover Design Flaws
Key aspects of designing successful products are often discovered during prototyping phases. Why? When designers have the opportunity to see their ideas transform into a reality, they can identify what works and what doesn't.
When designing products, it’s often best to start with a prototype and then refine the design further. Designers can collaborate on their designs by using prototypes as well to present what they are thinking of building or creating. This way you get feedback from others before investing too much time and effort into something.
The final step is deciding how many iterations should be made for each prototype before production begins. Deciding this point will help determine when a product goes into full-scale production instead of continuing with prototyping stages."
4. When to Make Metal Prototypes
Next, another great material for prototypes is metal. Metal is great because it's durable and heavy-duty. You can also heat mold metal into any shape you need for your product, making prototypes a breeze to manufacture on the fly. The drawback? Cutting shapes out of sheets or rods of metal usually requires some pretty hefty equipment which could be cost-prohibitive for many small businesses!
When are metal prototypes the right choice? We suggest metal prototypes when you need an idea to feel more "real" or if your product is costly and needs a lot of attention (think jewelry, cars).
There's been a major delay for car releases during 2021, and prototype issues could be part of the cause.
Put yourself in the engineer and designer's shoes. You have a big idea, but without a heavy-duty prototype, you can't imagine what your idea will look like. However, once you make a metal prototype, things start becoming more real. You can fine-tune your product, getting it to the perfect specifications. Then you can show the project to investors, share it with your team, and get feedback.
5. All Wood Prototypes
Earlier we mentioned making wood prototypes with foam. Now, let's talk about making prototypes that are 100% wood-based. Wood prototypes are the best way to demonstrate your idea in a tangible form. You can get an accurate sense of how it will work out before you start cutting into expensive materials like metal or plastic, and they're easy for people with varying abilities to use because you don't need any special tools beyond what most people have at home already.
Wood models also take less time than their more complicated counterparts: if you've got an hour available, odds are that's plenty of time to make something cool! The process is simple enough - just cut some wood shapes from graph paper, then glue them together according to the diagram layer out on top. You can find online tools to help you create the cutouts and diagrams.
Assembling Wood Prototypes
Next, let's look at how you'll assemble your wood prototype. First, you'll need to buy your materials. For instance, you'll need wood glue, sticks, wood boards, and a utility knife. For safety, we suggest that you wear gloves, goggles, and a dust mask.
Wear your mask while cutting the board so particles don't get into the eyes or mouth respectively. Use the utility knife to cut some sticks of different lengths. Be very careful not to make any sharp angles with the cuts, otherwise, there might be an uneven surface after it is assembled.
After gluing everything in place, you'll need to be patient. Let the glue dry. You'll need to wait about an hour or two before moving on. Eventually, you'll have each piece finished, and put together!
6. Rough Sketch Prototypes
Next, let's talk about rapid prototyping materials, such as sketches. What are the benefits associated with using rough sketch prototypes?
Rough sketches can be the most time-effective and cost-efficient way to create an initial representation of your digital product. For one, they're faster than final production models! This means you can test out more ideas without spending too much money (ex: by designing/printing).
Second, these are less expensive because they don't use paper that is expensive or ink that is covering. It's also easier on your budget if the test goes well. So think about what you want before you decide which type of prototype will be the best for them.
7. Digital Prototypes
So far we've been discussing different types of tangible materials. However, what about digital prototypes?
Digital prototypes are a type of prototype that uses computer modeling software like CAD to create and test virtual models. They're more economical, take less time to produce, and have the potential to be much better than physical prototyping when it comes to complicated interfaces or components with moving parts.
Here's an example of a digital prototype: Imagine you want your product packaging designed but don't know exactly how you want it to look. You could create a prototype on the computer that shows a wide variety of design styles.
When it comes to buying materials for making prototypes, things can get expensive fast. However, digital models offer a cost-effective solution. Viewing things online will be more cost-effective than designing and printing real packaging, only to throw it away when changes need to be made. It also reduces waste by not having to print out excess copies of prototypes. Digital prototyping can be used in many industries, including engineering, architecture, automotive design, and product packaging design.
Designing Website Prototypes
What types of company's use online digital prototypes the most? Amazingly enough, digital aspects of creation can benefit, such as websites. As long as the sketching is done in an online format, it can be incredibly helpful. Since many people use sketch models when designing websites it's no surprise that they turn out pretty useful during testing too. You can make changes on an existing site if there were problems found after initial client reviews before any expensive changes.
To sum it up, the biggest benefits of digital prototyping are fast turnaround, lower costs, and unlimited creativity. You may have an idea for a new product, but you can test it out in a digital way before investing time and money into the development process. This will save time in some cases because there is no waiting for physical materials or drawings. Imagine, view, change, and move on!
Pick the Best Prototype Materials
As you can see, prototype materials are an important part of the design process. The type of prototype material you choose will affect costs and creativity. There are wood, metal, foam, 3D printed, and even digital prototypes. However, not every material is a good fit for your product or service.
Decide which best fits your needs to optimize cost and time so that you can get back to focusing on what’s most important - making great products! Are you ready for more helpful tips? Take a few more minutes to explore the rest of this site!