Every product is different, but the processes for creating them share many similarities. Choosing appropriate prototyping for a given stage of development is key. Coupling this with deploying a wide range of available prototyping technologies and techniques will rapidly deliver impact, reducing risk in a controlled way and stress-testing the product proposition at each stage.
Why a Concept Prototype?
Having made huge progress towards solving a well understood and qualified user need, the Concept Prototype is where all the learnings come together into a fully functional system. It is in the combination of the physical device, user interfaces and basic data processing that the whole proposition can be tested with users in a realistic form and with functionality approaching that of the proposed product. Although the engineering is still not at production level, all the key technical risks have been removed and the system can be rolled out to cohorts of users to test and refine.
A Concept Prototype will have completely bespoke design, an appropriate form factor and the relevant software for user testing. Significant attention will have been directed to how the product will be manufactured, setting the scene for the production phase, which we will consider in the next post in this series.
After exploring feasibility, form and functionality thoroughly, the Concept Prototype is where everything comes into focus. It is at this stage where the system is in a truly ‘demonstrable’ state and can be deployed to users in a way that allows systematic testing of the product proposition. Indeed it is one of the main benefits of such a device and sets the foundation to confidently start scaling the product towards production.
It is appropriate to consider producing batches of 10-20 Concept Prototypes for user testing at this stage. These will have miniaturized electronics, but will still have 3D printed plastic parts. It is only at this stage when an assessment of the full product concept can be understood by potential users, as the physical and digital parts of the system are now in harmony and the subtleties of the ecosystem and the users relationship with the proposition can be explored and refined.
Examples of this prototype in the real world
In reality, a Concept Prototype will not have all the eventual features of a product, but it does allow the key user journeys to be tested. The best designed Concept Prototypes will target known user value and attempt to provide a service which solves the core user problem. Of significant value is also the ability to show a working prototype to an investor or a financial gatekeeper, a working prototype is worth its weight in gold.
A good Concept Prototype should also be tool for data collection, to maximise the value of user trials. A key factor in reaching this stage is the confidence that replicating a design by 10-20 units will be reliable enough not to fail en masse in the field.
User testing and validation
If a trial of very early users can be offered the chance to purchase the proposed product in the form of a Concept Prototype, this can offer a very useful yardstick in terms of being able to validate the product pricing and market appetite. Once a community of users have parted with cash, a critical milestone has been reached in that the business has proven that people will pay for the product proposition. If 10 users will buy a concept, they can then be treated to a concierge service and the software can be developed iteratively to solve specific user needs and also in direct response to their feedback. This is an invaluable phase of learning and can only be done when the prototyping has reached this stage.
Creating a System Prototype gives us the opportunity to create a fully functional prototype of the system without needing to miniaturise everything.
This prototype is not representative of the final product, but focuses on a key feature, technology or functional area of key importance which represents an identified risk.
Cost and value for money discussion
Having reached this level of advancement, the Concept Prototype is where much value from all of the stages leading up to it starts to pay off. Testing with users, proving the product will sell, capturing the first full data sets and setting the scene for production is a huge milestone in Product Development. It could be strongly argued that it is only at this stage that the business can prove that the proposition is going to deliver the value promised.
We have talked a lot about the need to combine the physical device with the ability to display processed, actionable information and how UX must be optimised to amplify the impact a product has with target users. This is the stage where the insights and design framework developed in previous stages comes alive and it is the job of the designers to establish both a mature physical system and simultaneously an open and configurable software environment. Without the configurability, it will be impossible to sharpen up what the user ends up experiencing as the service facilitated by the product.
The user feedback will drive many of these refinements and incremental improvements, with data processing being carefully managed across the device, any connected devices (such as a mobile phone) and the cloud. Of great interest at this stage can be how anonymised, aggregated data can be used to drive the individual experience and as the cohort of users grows, this will become a practical and valuable part of the equation.
On reaching this critical milestone in developing a wearable product, the major design and development hurdles have been overcome and the Concept Prototype can be used to prove the product value proposition, prove the market, collect data, refine interactions and finally, to establish confidence to roll it out on mass. A Concept Prototype looks and feels close to the real thing and allows software and data science to be ramped up to production, which we will cover next time on this series.