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The beginning of a prototype

We will look back into a brief history of prototyping, then explore how to create a prototype in the modern age along with some insight as to how that process can unfold.

ford delivery robot
Image: Ford

We live in a world where growth and opportunities create our futures, and in a time when making ideas into real-world products is much more possible. Through our history as an ever-changing population, the art of creating new innovations has been shaped into a more refined process.

In this article, we will first look back into a brief history of prototyping, then explore how to create a prototype in the modern age along with some insight as to how that process can unfold.

Innovation can bring us something that we never knew could be a large part of our world. When surfers in Southern California found themselves bored in between their time on the water in the 1940s, they ended up getting a different kind of board.

The original skateboard made by these young bucks resembles a cross that of the modern scooter and a small wagon. The designs at this time varied, boards were recovered from crates and salvage. The wheels that were attached to the bottom of the “Sidewalk Surfer” (as they were originally referred to) were recovered from rollerskates.

These people, little did they know, were participating in testing trials for the early skateboard prototype. Over the following half-century, the board would slowly change based on our understanding of what can be possible with a skateboard. Now, this surfer’s past time is an Olympic-level competitive sport, and without those first models, we would never know.

In the late 1800’s, following the Industrial Revolution, many new ideas began to sprout. There were several interpretations of the horseless wagon, including one made to run on a “lightning magnetic self rotor” by a Hungarian priest/physicist named Ányos Jedlik (which still works today).

Though these were all being developed, Henry Ford’s vision and trials led to the first combustion engine self-propelled vehicle. In 1896 Ford tested his early prototype well before the production of the Model T. After parting from his role as Thomas Edison’s Chief Engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit, Ford attempted to start production on the first gas-powered automobile.

Though he had new partners and connections, the Detroit Automobile Company would end up inadvertently being a costly prototyping process and resulted in the closing of their doors in 1901.

The takeaway from this experience was that it was possible, yet not quite as financially realistic as to what he wanted to produce and the availability to consumers. It would be another 7 years of trials, tests, and prototypes until we first saw the production of the factory-made Model T.

Fortunately, the modern process of creating a prototype is vastly more available in terms of creation, connection, and production. Technology that is available today can make bringing an idea into a shared space much more possible.

The start of a prototype in today’s age begins by making a rendered model, either in 2D, 3D or as of recently,  a physical 3D printed representation. Bringing this vision to life can not only be shared with the rest of the world, but also bring new insight and perspective on how to refine and develop the first prototype.

With a model, now it can be compared to other relatable products to have a reference for the target demographic of consumers. As these pieces start to come together, the consideration of what resources and tools required for the production must begin as well.

Much to the same reason for the closing of Henry Ford’s Detroit Automobile Company, making sure that overhead costs do not push out potential buyers of the product due to the cost of the final product is critical. Having a prototype made gives an incredible benefit to the considerations that need to go into production, however large or small it may be.

Where, what, and how the resources and equipment to build the first prototype are just as important as when starting production on the product. Keeping costs low can be possible, but the idea of the prototype is more about information gathering than actual creation.

The price for a well-thought-out prototype is worth it’s weight, as it can lead to a much more thought out final product. Protecting assets is critical in this phase. As this is the inception phase of the production, having written agreements, contracts, and ideally an Intellectual Property or Copyright lawyer can ensure that all agreements will have legal standing if any issues arise.

The sale of information can be a lucrative market if there are no legal repercussions to deter or hold accountable those who violate the contracts.

So hopefully this article has shared some perspective on the many shapes of the prototyping process and how to get a prototype made. Though now it is much more possible to create, it is only made possible through taking those first steps, and reaching out to an Industrial Designer can bridge a lot of the experience gap that may exist.

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