the prototyping process at outerspace

Prototyping is an important part of the product development process at outerspace.

It is used to visualise, de-risk, test and validate ideas, and can be used in every stage of development, from early idea and concept design, through to engineering validation and readiness for pilot production and manufacture. Typically, multiple prototypes are required to verify a design prior to mass production, depending on the product.
prototyping process diagram
We use three prototype categories – looks-like, works-like and made-like prototypes. We divide the prototyping process into four types.

Every product development project is unique. At outerspace we work with clients across a broad range of markets and product ideas. The prototyping requirements for each product or product system we design is customised for each project.

Product development can be complex and we adjust the prototyping process to accommodate multiple factors that might include aspects like complexity of product geometry, user feedback, market and investor feedback, technical requirements and manufacturability.

Prototyping, like product development, doesn’t always follow a clear linear pathway. We apply our capabilities to solve unexpected problems and challenges along the development pathway, looping back or changing direction if required.

an outside-in and inside-out approach

At outerspace we talk about “outside in” and “inside out” aspects or approaches of prototypes. 

Working from the outside in, we look at things like user interaction, the use-case environment and what the product needs to look like. 

Working inside-out, we look at the technologies and mechanisms that need to be understood to deliver the product ‘s performance. Either outside-in or inside-out methods can come first, but they are both important to consider.

looks-like prototypes visualise a product idea

Looks-like prototypes are built using various modeling methods, and are based on design sketches.

It is important to clearly visualise a product before we start building physical prototypes. This ensures efficiency and a cost-effective process, shows what a product might really look like, and achieves a clear consensus between the designers and the client on the product vision. 

Our design team understands market trends and this data is translated into visuals to inform the way a product could look like, and the basic workings of a product.

outerspace designer researching design trends
researching trends and analysing the market for a connected wearable product idea

As talented visualisers, our designers provide early direction for a design using sketches, animations, form studies and models to quickly give visual, looks-like context to ideas. 

3D sketching on tablet or paper quickly shows the geometry, scale and format of a 3D product. 

Sketches can highlight problems or challenges with product geometry and format in the very early stages of product development. It’s a low cost way to show what the product looks-like.

design concept sketch
quick drawings are used to inform how models can be built to show the sequence and movements of parts in an in-home exercise system
product sketch on tablet
rough, fast sketches for a wearable device created on a tablet
fast product design sketches
early fast sketches on paper, created in a meeting to show a client ideas for a jump rope handle design
concept design sketch for jump rope
concept sketch to quickly show the idea and form for an adjustable jump rope design
mechanical concept drawing
a quick sketch by a designer showing the internal mechanical components for an adjustable jump rope system

Paper, cardboard and foam models are a quick, low-cost way to visualise a product idea in 3D to show what it looks like. Models are tactile three-dimensional representations of the form of a product. They give us an understanding of what a product looks like and how a person might interact with it.

models of 3d forms
foam modeling is a fast and effective way to create looks-like 3D forms

Sometimes we can assess early ergonomic and user interface considerations with foam models. They can also be used in user research workshops to test how a person feels about a form, how they might pick it up, hold it or wear it.

ergonomic form studies
designers assessing the size and form of a foam model for a hand-held product

Models show us the spatial aspects of a product. They show us the form and how it might look in a use context. Our designers generally use paper and foam models to quickly assess how a three-dimensional form will look as a wearable or how easily it can be held in our hands.

Sometimes we use soft materials like fabrics if it suits the product type we are working with. Sketches and models inform the build of an early looks-like prototype.

the Proof of Concept prototype or PoC

proof of concept prototype
Proof of Concept prototype for a medical device and support stand

A looks-like or visual prototype is a Proof of Concept (PoC) prototype that shows us the form and format of a product and basic product feasibility. A PoC is used by designers and engineers to assess size, format, technical feasibility, performance, economic viability and suitability to meet market needs.

It usually shows the exterior form and sometimes shows us basic functions like how a product pulls apart or how it might go together. It is essentially a physical, scaled object that is an accurate visual representation of the sketches and quick hand-made models of the product. It doesn’t have true working parts yet, but it can demonstrate key technical aspects.

cardboard proof of concept prototype
PoC made from cardboard and blue foam

PoC prototypes are usually made from low cost materials such as cardboard, timber or metal that are easy to shape and used to construct forms using simple hand held tools. Low cost 3D printed parts, vacuum casting, off the shelf parts and other materials and electronic development kits can be used, depending on the product.

The PoC can be used to show a client a product concept in 3D, to communicate an idea, and show the size and scale of a product. We can also use PoCs to show how a user will interact with the product, how specific design problems will be solved, and how the overall architecture of the product will support all its features.

We present, test, review and collate feedback on a PoC to inform the next phase – the Concept Demonstrator Prototype development.

the Concept Demonstrator Prototype or CDP

concept demonstrator prototype in lab
Concept Demonstrator Prototype of an in-home exercise system

Generally our mechanical and product design engineers build a Concept Demonstrator Prototype or CDP. 

It’s a partially looks-like, partially works-like demonstrator. It shows next level maturity and is more developed. It is typically built as a marketing prototype to show functionality. 

a partial looks-like, partial works-like demonstrator

working in lab with concept demonstrator prototype
CDP of in-home exercise system with some mechanical parts

Concept demonstrators are created to show feasibility to an internal management team; to demonstrate a product idea to investors; or to show end users the product idea and how it might work. Visual assets such as renders and animations can also be used to support and communicate the CDP.

renders of in-home ex ercise system
renders of in-home exercise system

We present, test, review and collate feedback to apply intel gathered from the CDP to the next phase – the Alpha prototype development.

the Alpha prototype

alpha prototype of in-home exercise system
Alpha prototype of in-home exercise system

An Alpha prototype shows us what the product almost looks-like and works-like, but not yet how it will be manufactured.

It’s used to test and evaluate a design to find any flaws. Our mechanical, electronic, firmware and program and systems engineers work together to create an Alpha. Sometimes our industrial designers are also consulted to resolve colour, material and finish specifications.

looks-like and works-like, but not made-like

Materials and manufactured parts are simulated to replicate the made-like product.

electronics testing of Alpha prototype
electronics testing of an Alpha prototype
firmware engineer testing Alpha prototype
firmware testing of an Alpha prototype

After the Alpha is reviewed and signed off, the parts tooling stage begins. 

Moving towards the next stage. We test, review and commence tooling manufacture for the Beta prototype.

the Beta prototype

beta prototype of electronic exercise bike
Beta prototype of touch activated exercise and spin bike

The Beta is the looks-like, works-like, made-like prototype, made by using final production processes. It is used for full engineering and manufacturing validation activities that inform pilot production.

looks-like, works-like, made-like

We test, review, develop tooling and refine the Beta in preparation for pilot production.

mechanical testing Beta prototype
mechanical strength testing of a Beta prototype in the lab
testing beta prototypes
testing Beta prototypes for an underwater communication headset product

pilot and volume production

Pilot production is small or low volume production that then ramps up to higher volume and mass production.

Our engineers assist and guide pilot production and can provide guidance on quality control requirements for manufacturing and product assembly. 

We have access to a large network of manufacturing sources and contacts for clients who need assistance in sourcing manufacturing and component suppliers.

For more information about developing your product and prototyping – talk to us

authors

Director - Design and Mechanical Engineering

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