An industrial design prototyping environment involves the use of specialized tools, computer programs, and fabrication platforms to build models. It can also refer to a specific type of physical setup where a wide range of functional components are operated in a closed system. Prototypes are typically utilized by large companies and manufacturing firms to test out concepts before making large-scale production runs. Many organizations use them as an alternative to costly investment prototypes.
A prototype is often compared to a digital ‘proof of concept’ for several reasons. In fact, it’s not entirely accurate since a prototype can be much more than just a ‘model.’ A good analogy would be comparing a digital blueprint of an automobile to a rendering of one of the final products that will ultimately be produced. A digital blueprint is just a starting point; the actual physical product is still far off and not yet considered final. In contrast, functional prototypes can be seen as ‘production model’ that demonstrates how the final product will behave in real life.
Practically speaking, industrial designers need to create functional prototypes to validate the design intent behind the invention. Functional prototypes are viewed as a means to understand how a complex product or machine will function in real-life. They are used to improve the designs, along with the understanding of the impact of design decisions on the real product. Much of the success of industrial design prototyping results from the fact that industrial designers can develop a working prototype from a simple set-up drawing without having to build a physical product. The ability to quickly visualize an end product in reality is important to reducing the cost, time, risk, and labor.
With the increasing sophistication of CAD software programs, as well as digital hardware fabrication equipment, there is no longer a need to develop an initial concept design. Design prototypes can be developed by using standard desktop publishing applications. These software programs and equipment allow rapid development process prototypes to be created in hours rather than weeks or months. This allows for quick decision making about the initiation of industrial design prototyping.
Because functional industrial prototypes enable quick evaluation and implementation, industrial designers can rapidly refine the design process without changing the product design. In addition, the ability to rapidly develop, test, and implement new industrial design technologies makes industrial designers more effective in the marketplace. With this efficiency in the development process, it is possible to introduce new technology into the marketplace without impacting the production process to the point that it is unprofitable in the long run. Many industrial designers see the ease of prototyping as an important factor when it comes to the continual improvement of manufacturing processes.
Another significant benefit of industrial design prototyping is that it enables rapid evolution of functional components. Often, manufacturers will require product designs to change based upon the customer’s feedback. By implementing prototypes early in the development process, improvements can be incorporated without changing the production process. This facilitates easier integration of new processes and better product design standards.
Industrial designers utilize industrial design prototyping to develop ideas for new products and industrial designs. Product development processes are often a lengthy process due to the large number of design considerations. However, with industrial design prototyping, a large number of these design decisions can be made in hours or days instead of months or years. The flexibility in the time frame for product development opens up avenues for faster and more economical implementation. In addition, the visual presentation of these new concepts can help to quickly identify profitable opportunities. The visual presentation of these concepts allows for fast decision making during the development process.
It should be noted that there are benefits inherent in both industrial design prototyping methods. Design prototyping provides designers with a set of tools that they can use to develop complex and meaningful visual presentations in a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, iterative development process improves the developers’ ability to rapidly and efficiently solve problems and incorporate constructive feedback from customers. Both methods have important pros and cons for designing products with iterative methods. A thorough understanding of each method is necessary for designers to make the right choice depending on their requirements.