Innovation engineering — Prototyping

Finally, we can build something. Ideation and prototyping are 2 methods from the Design Thinking process. These 2 methods are iterative and become more powerful with each cycle. I will highlight these 2 very powerful methods, and tell you how to combine them with research and use them to quickly create a viable concept or Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

This is part of the Innovation engineering blog series.

Rule #1: Repeat

Rule #2: Isolate

Ideation

Prototyping

Prototyping is often associated with Rapid Prototyping, but these techniques are rarely cost-effective in the early stages of development. Your prototype should have the lowest level of complexity necessary to test whatever you want to test. This can mean using paper, cork, and spaghetti, but it could also mean using 3D printed carbon-reinforced parts. It all depends on your goal and thirst for knowledge.

How to prototype

The prototyping process will always teach you things that you didn’t think of, or couldn’t find out doing only desk research. This means it is also time to add to the requirements drafted in the first step. These will be ever more specific to each function or aspect.

Iterate

Every time you complete a cycle (ideation, prototyping), evaluate what you’ve learned, and exactly how this applies to your end goal. If your goal is to create an MVP (minimum viable product), the trick is to get to the core of your idea and only validate that. Spoiler alert, this usually means 1 or 2 core functionalities.

If you would like my help with your development process, please reach out in the comments below.

Example: Vending machine

Functional description

The main functions of this machine are:
1. Allowing a user to select a product
2. Identify User and hand location
3. Dispense product to the user

In terms of affordance, the machine will have to:
1. Invite the user to use the touch screen
2. Invite the user to use NFC payment
3. Explain to the user how the machine will interact with them

Isolate

Ideation

1. A robot arm
2. Shoot the product into the air and have the user catch it
3. Levitate product with magnets
4. Have the product materialize in the user's hand

Prototyping

1. Be able to repeatedly launch products
2. Be able to launch different products in the air
3. Calculate trajectory (and predict landing point)

A prototype for launching the products could be a simple spring-loaded platform, an old-school ballista, or a complex pneumatic canon. Choose the lowest level of complexity for each prototype.

Huibert is an innovation engineer, prototyper, maker, 3D printing nerd. He thinks anyone can be an inventor with the right mix of attitude and time investment.