How To Create a Working Prototype in 7 Steps (Plus Benefits)

Updated February 3, 2023

When professionals generate an idea for a new product, building a prototype first can help them determine how that product might function. Building a prototype is a process that entails creating a physical model of a product's design that a professional can then test. Understanding how to create a prototype is an important step in transforming your product from an idea into a manufactured product.

In this article, we show you how to create a prototype in seven steps and describe the benefits of using prototypes.

How to create a prototype in 7 steps

If you want to learn how to create a prototype, consider following these steps:

1. Conduct research

When you have an idea for a product, a beneficial first step to conduct is researching similar products. This can help you determine whether your idea is innovative.

Finding and analyzing similar products can also help you discover what parts comprise them and how they work together to form a functional product. This allows you to understand how to build your product and how it might function once you create it.

Related: How To Become an Inventor

2. Draw a design

Before you create a prototype, it's important to design your product. A sketch can help you roughly determine what your finished product might look like and how it might function. These sketches only represent initial product ideas, so finding a design you like is essential and may require several drafts.

Later steps might require more time and money than this phase, so it's often helpful to develop several designs and focus on one you believe is optimal.

Related: Prototype Model: A Definitive Guide

3. Develop a virtual model

The next step toward creating an effective prototype is generating a virtual model of your product. With 3D imaging software, you can create a realistic model of your proposed design.

While creating your virtual model, it's helpful to consider what materials are best for the eventual product and how different shapes affect your product's functionality. This can help you create a model that accurately represents how your product might look and function once built.

Related: What Is Rapid Application Development? Definition and Tips

4. Determine whether you require assistance

After building a model of your product, you can now determine whether you can build the prototype yourself. If your prototype requires specific machinery to build, consider asking someone trained in using such machines to help you.

For example, both engineers and prototype developers can help you build a prototype. Whichever expert you choose, finding help can allow you to create your prototype in a safe and effective manner. They might also use their expertise to offer advice on how to improve your design.

Related: What Is Design Thinking?

5. Generate a proof of concept

A proof-of-concept prototype demonstrates how your product works. This prototype might not look exactly like your finished product, but it's important that your proof of concept contains the moving or mechanized parts from your design so you can see how each part functions together. This can help ensure you build a product that functions as intended.

Related: What Is a Proof of Concept? (Plus Why You Should Have One)

6. Create your prototype

Once you're certain you can create a functional product, you can build a version that adheres more to your model and designs. For this prototype, you can combine your visual ideas from your design with your proof of concept's functionality. With this information, you can also determine which parts of your design work and which may require adjustments.

Related: What Is a Product Engineer? Skills, Requirements and Salary

7. Repeat any steps as needed

Once you test your prototype or allow your intended audience to use it, you might discover areas that require improvement. Consider returning to your sketches, 3D model or proof of concept to make any required changes.

You can repeat these steps as many times as needed to find the right combination of function and design for your prototype. Then, you can show your mastered prototype to potential investors or begin manufacturing your product.

What are the benefits of using a prototype?

Creating a prototype can be an important early step toward ensuring a successful production process because it can provide you with key information about your idea for a product. Here are some benefits of using a prototype in your product design process:

Tests your product's functionality

Building a model of your proposed idea can help you determine whether your product functions as intended. After testing your product with a prototype, you can determine whether it works well enough to invest more time and money into it.

Testing your product can also help you make adjustments to ensure optimal performance and eventual customer satisfaction.

Related: How To Turn Your Invention Idea Into a Product (With Tips)

Saves 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 your product's design before spending the money to produce it and potentially recalling it if there are defects present. You can also use a prototype to ensure the production process is economically viable.

Allows you to demonstrate your product to investors

A prototype of your product can also help you show investors what your product aims to accomplish and how well it works.

Demonstrating your product with a prototype also offers you the opportunity to answer questions any investors might have about your product. Prototypes can help convince investors that your product is useful and worth their investment.

Related: 10 Types of Prototypes (With Explanations)

Determines your product's usefulness

Another effective method associated with creating a product is allowing select members of your intended audience to use your prototype, which can help you determine whether they believe the product is useful.

You can gather their feedback to learn more about what they like and what might require improvement. With this feedback, you can create an even more useful prototype or advance toward mass producing your product.

Related: The 7 Steps of the Engineering Design Process

Highlights the proper materials to use

When you generate an idea for a product, you might determine the specific materials you require and an outline of your eventual product's shape. With a prototype, you can then take your original idea and learn how to create a better product at a lower cost.

For example, your prototype might help you determine that changing the shape or fastening parts together differently can make your product sturdier than you believed possible with your original idea.

Related: 8 Steps in the Product Production and Development Process

Helps you coherently discuss your product

When you speak to others, such as investors, manufacturers and distributors, about your product, they might have specific questions about its dimension, weight, mobility and other aspects.

Developing a prototype can provide you with specific, clear answers to their questions. These details can help external parties determine whether they want to invest in or assist you with your final product.

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