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4 Simple Steps for Getting an Idea Made Into a Prototype

Published by Salvador Briggman. Find him on Twitter.

Every great physical product starts with an idea. Every massively successful Kickstarter campaign first started as an idea in an entrepreneur’s mind.

There are many steps that you must take towards launching a successful ecommerce store, but turning your idea into a prototype is the most important part.

It’s that initial step that sets you out from the pack and thousands of wantrapreneurs who have “revolutionary ideas,” but fail to take action.

Let’s go through some of the things that you need to keep in mind when you’re creating your first prototype! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

1. Sketch it out on paper

sketching-it-outThere is a time and place for fancy drawings, but for now just get a rough idea of the product that you’d like to make by sketching it out on a blank piece of paper. You can just use simple graph paper and a black pen.

Creating a concept sketch is the very first step towards making a full-blown prototype that you can interact with and show to investors or users.

It’s best to make several sketches to fully grasp what the product is going to look like from multiple angels. Depending on the product, you might add 3D views as you’re sketching, before you fully transition it over to a software program.

2. Use software to create a design file

While yes, you can bring basic sketches to a design firm or company that will help you get the prototype made, you’ll get a more realistic version of what you want if you use a software tool.

I’d recommend transitioning the drawing from paper to a software tool like one below.

Adobe Photoshop

adobe-photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most popular options out there. You can also get the Creative Cloud, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and more.

InDesign

indesign

Similar to Photoshop, you can use InDesign to bring your product sketch to life! Of course, it will take a bit of time to learn how the software works, but the skills you learn will pay off big-time in the long run.

Balsamiq

balsamiq

While Balsamiq is primarily used for creating wireframes for software products, it’s another option that you could use to copy your sketch to the computer. It’s another good option if you don’t want to invest in Photoshop.

After you get your sketch onto the computer, you’ll then need to make a 3D rendering of the product. There are a lot of software tools out there that will let you do this. I’ll mention a few below.

Tinkercad

tinkercad

Tinkercad is super easy to use and way less complicated than CAD. It’s a great software tool for making the 3D rendering for your product, along with all of the measurements and specifications.

CAD

cad

CAD is more of the professional solution, especially if you already have some familiarity with designing and prototyping. If you’re a professional designer or architect, you’ve likely heard of and use CAD.

SketchUp

sketchup

SketchUp is another 3D modeling software that will help you bring your drawings to life. You can export your drawings as PDF, images, or CAD files.

By creating a design file, you’ll be bringing the product one step closer to a prototype!

3. Pick a way to get it prototyped

There are a lot of ways to turn that 3D design file into a physical object. Before you actually go about making the prototype, you should ask yourself what your goals are with the prototype, including function, needs, and features. Do you need a fully functional prototype? Are you seeing how the user will interact with it?

First of all, you could create a quick cheap prototype using one of the products below:

  • Shapelock – You can use Shapelock to make parts, brackets, molds and more. The plastic material melts in hot water and then locks rigidly at room temperature.
  • Sugru – Sugru is moldable glue that you can use to both fix items around the house or prototype a product.
  • Sculpey – Sculpey makes innovative clays that you can use to sculpt into a prototype of jewelry and other items.

You could also use 3D printing to cheaply create a prototype for your product, using a site like:

  • Shapeways – Shapeways lets you upload your design file directly and choose from a variety of materials. You’ll get instant pricing and be able to easily get an idea of what your finished product will look like.
  • Sculpteo – Sculpteo is another service that will render your 3D printed creation and ship it out to you in the mail. You can quickly see what your finished product will look like.
  • I.Materalize – I.Materalize is a third online service that you can use to get a 3D printed creation of your product. Just upload your 3D design file, specify materials and color options, and you’re set to go!
  • Buy a 3D printer. If you want to learn a bit more about 3D printing and think you’re going to get a lot of use out of the machine, you could also look into purchasing a 3D printer!

Finally, you could also look into getting the product made through CNC milling or injection molding. ProtoLabs explains the differences well, saying “For fast, early, individual prototypes… 3D printing is hard to beat. For low-volume functional prototypes in production-equivalent materials, rapid CNC machining is ideal. And for larger numbers of prototypes in actual production materials for moldablity testing or for low volume production, rapid injection molding is the perfect choice.”

4. Iterate and repeat

Finally, once you actually do get your first prototype made, the process doesn’t end there! Likely, you’re going to have to re-work the product and repeat the prototyping.

Maybe you realized that it’s difficult for the user to hold the prototype, or that you left out some key bit of functionality. Either way, remember that this is all a learning process.

You’re collecting as much data as possible in terms of how the user interacts with the product so that you can create a better experience for your paying customers.

Once you learn how to prototype a product, the effect is extremely powerful! You’ll be able to show that prototype to partners, customers, and potential investors. Your idea is no longer in your head, it’s in your hands. You’re one of the few inventors or designers who actually took action and got their product made.

If you find that you’re struggling with this whole process, I highly recommend that you check out my article on how to set up an ecommerce business from scratch. This will give you a lot of valuable core principles to work off of as you’re creating a product that will change the world!

Be sure to leave me any questions via a comment down below.

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