What Should I Know About Prototype Design?

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  • Written By: John B Landers
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Prototype design is the process involved in turning a concept into an original model. Once an inventor has worked out the flaws and knows what the invention will need to function, the design process can began. The type and purpose of the prototype often depends on the circumstances. Designing a prototype is often referred to as evolutionary. Many prototype design projects start out as simply as building a rough mock-up of the product using cardboard, plastic, and tape. More advance designs construct models that are functional, virtual, or 3-D prototypes.

Designers, engineers and product development professionals need to understand the weaknesses, and restrictions of their designs, as well as its strengths. Prototype models not only bring product designs to life, but also help others to better evaluate the creation. Models are intended to give people the information they need to make decisions about the product. Many prototype designers try to replicate the properties and characteristics of the intended design to the best of their ability. However, even the best prototypes will compromise on the final production design.


Initially, the prototype should be as simple as possible. Many people start out by sketching their concept with pencil and paper, often doing several iterations of the idea as they envision it. The objective is to break the idea down and make it as simple as possible. More complex designs may require the use of computer software. Once the concept has been worked out, it is ready for the first phase in the prototype design process. Taking the idea from conception to a physical good is referred to as “reducing the invention to practice.”

There are many categories of prototypes designs, including proof of principle, aesthetic model and functional prototypes. The proof of principle is a design model that proves that a component, new product, or final system actually works. This type of prototype should be tough enough to demonstrate the functionality of the product; however, it is not necessary for this particular model to replicate materials, visual aspects, or manufacturing procedures. Proof of principle prototype designs are often used to define components of the concept’s options that will not work or may even need further research and development.

The form study is a prototype design that may have the size, look, and appearance of the end-product, but is not functional. Many form study prototype models are hand-crafted or machine designs. Most are made of inexpensive materials and may not necessarily be representative of texture, finish, or color of the finished product. This type of prototype design is usually created for the purpose of making internal decisions about the product.

Designers use aesthetic or visual prototype designs when they wish to simulate features such as appearance, color, and texture. This particular model is not intended to be functional and is often use for photo sessions, market analysis, or executive reviews. Functional prototype models are also called working models. They are intended, as much as possible, to demonstrate the final model, including functionality, aesthetics, materials, and other features. Usually, working models are scaled down to make them more cost effective.

Another method of prototype design is called rapid prototyping. It encompasses a set of methods that use three-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) to construct models or components. Engineering, marketing, and production can become involved with the product from its conception. All these departments are able to evaluate the product early in the process and through production. This prototype design model allows for corrections and alterations to be made at little cost and development time.


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