In this series of posts on prototyping, we explore how wearable technology is created. Through tried and tested prototyping iterations, we look at how to deliver game-changing wearable technology products from idea to mass production.
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.
In this post we will take a microscope to the Feasibility Prototype. When approaching development of a new and innovative product, we often use these as a first step along a journey that iteratively brings a product to life. It is with a clear understanding of the technical risks and unknowns that such a step is best applied.
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. For example, this may be a specific selection of technology elements, a particular material combination, or the need for a novel data set.
The aim of a Feasibility Prototype is to rapidly establish evidence. After the work is complete and the prototype has been used to prove or disprove whether a technique or technology will work in the product context, there is likely a reevaluation of the proposition and the setting of grounded, evidence-based targets for development.
A Feasibility Prototype allows the answering of fundamental questions about the product, which cannot be resolved by research alone. A Feasibility Prototype is targeted at key technical unknowns, not at establishing a fully featured representation of the product. As such, it can take many physical forms and may target any element of a product in need of detailed scrutiny.
Examples of this prototype in real world
For example, if a heart rate sensor embedded within a fabric was key to a product proposition, a Feasibility Prototype may target the integration of a specific electrode into a fabric substrate. This could allow tests to be performed on the functional performance, the mechanical properties or the washability of the proposed solution. Another example of a Feasibility Prototype might be the novel combination of two types of sensor to provide synchronous human physiological signals delivering a unique metric, core to a product proposition. Neither of these examples required huge time or resource commitment, but targeted significant unknowns, acting to reduce risk and expose a more clear development roadmap, based on a proven central proposition.
User testing and validation
The Feasibility Prototype is explicitly designed to test a specific feature or element of a product proposition, so very specific testing can be carried out to validate the technology and provide the qualification needed in later stages of the development. This testing could be highly quantified, based on data collection, or more subtle, relating to the look and feel of materials or the tactile nature of a button of mechanical device. User opinion could be sought from digital mock-ups and renderings as part of a feasibility study.
Also important is setting a bar for the testing. ‘How many users should be tested, to give a degree of confidence?’ could be a good question to ask. Often a handful of users can be enough to capture a trend. Sometimes a more quantified experiment might be needed to capture enough data to perform a more extensive machine learning test.
Cost and value for money discussion
One of the main benefits of a Feasibility Prototype is to do a minimum amount of development time and cost in the early stages, whilst significantly reducing the future development risks. Rather than investing in a full development plan with waterfall planning, a Feasibility Prototype really lives by the spirit of the Lean methodology, where the Build-Measure-Learn cycle keeps things focused, efficient and pragmatic in the face of a myriad of unknowns.
One of the important factors here is that even if the results come back negatively, it still allows greater business knowledge and reduces uncertainty. There really is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ outcome from this kind of work, because the key outcome we are looking for is an increase in knowledge and a decrease in the unknowns!
In terms of value for money, there is no better way to start working on an innovative product. After doing the research and making an outline plan and budget, the hands-on work is best conducted in this form early on. Rapid answers, sprints of testing makes everything else flow better later.
It is not just physical prototypes which benefit from feasibility work. The digital and User Interface is as important. Fundamental questions about the value users will place in a product and how they might interact with an app or other touchpoint should be considered. Feasibility testing also happens in the data analysis and information generation a product provides. In a real life example, an app could provide a particular metric or score and a Feasibility Prototype may simply mimic the behaviour of the eventual product and present dummy data to a cohort. The user’s responses to variations of these metrics could then be used to determine critical functionality within the product later on.
In this article we have looked at some examples of Feasibility Prototypes. They are fast, focused, pragmatic developments, focused at resolving questions about the physical, digital and data analysis imagined for a new product. They take many forms and are backed up with user testing, very simple or more ambitious as required, but will always be designed to answer very focused and specific questions. A Feasibility Prototype is a segue between research and development – a sanity check on the basics and the point at which the rubber hits the road.
Article by Dr Jacob Skinner, CEO, Thrive Wearables