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Who Needs a Prototype?

24 May 2010

3form Design offers prototyping a fraction of the cost

One of the most significant milestones in a development program is the prototype. It is where the less technically minded purse holders can really understand what the new product is going to be like. The pressure to satisfy this fix as soon as possible is hard to reason with and the fact that prototyping is now a “push button” response makes the need even more irresistible. 

The investment into these “push button” prototyping technologies makes it difficult for design agencies to offer a comprehensive service, and so the specialised bureau has become the way of it. This has its advantage as it means design companies don’t try and justify their own investments for every single project. Instead, designers can choose the most appropriate service from the most competitive bureau. 

But as the bureau industry has grown the design process has began to feel the change. The formality of a third party purchase order has put an administrative focus on the prototype cost and this has ceremonially positioned it in the in the development budget. The result is that this milestone cost puts more emphasis on making sure the prototype is executed only when the development is concluded.  In fact, the common expectation is that the prototype will represent the justification for the new product in all its glory. It is not unusual these days to find the prototype in the sales office and not in the design department. You would think that the physical reference would be valuable aid as the project moves towards production where any imperfections will be replicated on a large scale. 

Not only is there a pressure to see something physical as soon as possible but there is also a pressure for it to be right first time!

So what of the need to investigate the design? 

If the prototype shows up a failure or demonstrates the need for improvement then surely the prototype is truly participating in the design process.

It is vital that the prototype budget not only allows for a “marketing model” once the design is complete but also for designers to have access to this physical reference points. Often the prototype is coveted by the client and sits on the sales director desk while the design team carries on in the dark.

But clients don’t want to pay for design team models. To them this is a cost that the design team should bare as it would the software it uses to explore the designs. The net result is that when budgets are tight the numbers of iterations that can be explored are reduced.  The design then progresses slower which has associated cost with it to both the agency and the client.

In terms of risk assessment prototypes have a clear role to play in the early development of ideas. Without physical assessment some concepts just won’t be explored and others may clock up hours of design fees before any true measure is made.

For the 3fD team I have recognised the value of bringing the technology back in-house. Only this time it is for jury rigging not marketing models. The cost is about 20% of what it would normally cost which means the designer doesn’t need a capital expenditure form to evaluate ideas that can give the client greater commercial value. 

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