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Prototyping and Types of Product Prototypes

Prototypes play a pivotal role in the product development process and are used to establish feedback loops that allow your unique idea to evolve. During the development process, a number of prototypes will be necessary to verify your product design functions and appears as expected. As a rule of thumb, each development step is followed by a prototype.

3D Printing for Prototyping

The purpose of prototypes is to verify that your product works as intended. If the prototype fails, the product will not work and will need to be re-designed. However, if the prototype is functionally and aesthetically well received, you can proceed with the design or manufacturing stages and start to market your product with prototype on hand.

Don’t assume CAD designs are accurate enough to bypass prototypes. A physical prototype will always trump computer-generated renderings. This is what makes prototypes crucial. They are essential to verifying your CAD designs.

Proof of Concept (PoC)

The earliest version of your product is called the proof of concept (PoC). It is the single most crucial part to test the functionality of the product and verify that your design concept was engineered correctly. The PoC won’t be pretty and most likely will not use mass-produced materials, but that’s ok – this prototype is only meant to confirm the validity and viability of your idea.

If the PoC fails, then that concept does not work and a new concept will be needed.

Functional Prototype

You have a functional prototype when all of the mechanical and electrical components work as intended. The goal of this prototype is to have a product that works exactly as the product was designed to function. Rarely do you nail this on the first attempt. Specific design changes are typically needed to have the product functionally work as intended.

Furthermore, functional prototypes won’t look like the final version, which is the purpose of the prototype shown below.

Functional Product Prototype

Aesthetic Prototype

Nowadays a product needs to be more than simply functional. Everything from color, shape and feel should evoke a positive response from your end buyer. The goal of an aesthetic prototype is to provide you with a physical sample of how the product will look and feel. Consumers may prefer rounded edges as opposed to sharp corners or softer materials as opposed to harder ones – which is very difficult to grasp from renderings alone. While you can get an idea of the colors with renderings, it’s always best to verify this with physical samples.

An aesthetic prototype will need to answer the following questions:

  • Color - Does the product have the correct color combinations for the target audience?

  • Shape - Does the product have the desired shape for the target market?

  • Feel - Does the product feel comfortable when you are using it? Is it ergonomic?

If the sample looks great and is ergonomic, then the aesthetic sample is accepted.

Aesthetic Product Prototype

Golden Sample

The golden sample is completed after the functional and aesthetic prototypes are approved. The goal is to have the golden samples be both functional and aesthetically appealing. Essentially, the golden sample is the synthesis of the accepted functional and aesthetic samples.

These are also the samples made right before production and work as the pre-production samples. The golden sample will be referenced when your manufacturing partner puts together the production documents (i.e. work instructions) and quality documents (i.e. inspection procedures).

The golden sample is proof your product can be made with the specific materials and that it is both functional and aesthetically suitable for your target market.

The golden sample is multifunctional and can provide you with the following:

  • Samples to provide to buyers

  • Samples to launch a crowdfunding campaign

  • Confirm your production pricing

  • Develop production and quality documents

  • Develop a production schedule

Usually, the product’s packaging should be included as well. Packaging can be another crucial component to marketing your new product. Poorly executed packaging can hinder sales, while well-designed packaging can help propel your growth (i.e. Apple).

Golden Sample

Pilot Run

For the first round of production, there will be a small trial run to ensure production operates smoothly and as expected. This trial run is the pilot run. The pilot run is a small percentage (5-10%) of the purchase order (PO) to help verify production processes, check for unforeseen quality defects, and ensure production can run smoothly without hiccups (i.e. capacity issues).

Once the pilot run is completed, you can proceed with producing the remaining 90-95%. The pilot run might not be seen as an actual prototype, but samples will be taken and stored by your manufacturer to verify future orders.

Prototyping Golden Samples

If you have questions about prototypes or would like to discuss the development of your new, contact us to schedule a call.


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