BuildThe 10 Prototypes Rule. Shows in emojis how you first draft a prototype. Then it fails, you examine and then redo it.

What’s The 10 Prototypes Rule?

So, you want to build, market and sell your own products. Creating your first prototype is probably not new to you. But make no mistake. Just creating a single prototype is not going to cut it. In fact, you should create at least 10 prototypes before releasing your product.

The value of a prototype

Why are we even creating prototypes? To build a product, we need to be creative. Often, we also need to solve many engineering problems. In both cases, it’s hard to plan or predict how something will work out in the end. So, often you can only try to take the best approach to solve a problem and go for it. But, building a product in low volumes is very expensive. Tooling costs are high and ordering a small number of components is expensive.

To sum it up, a prototype proves if a solution is a good fit for a problem. Additionally, a prototype must be cheap, easy and fast to build.

Prototyping gone wrong 🔥

When I started the development of Moment-Rec, I wanted to create a prototype. I started with a development kit for the microcontroller I had chosen. Soon, I realized that it would be a pain to connect all sensors and peripherals to the kit. So, I started to develop a Moment-Rec PCB and write embedded software for it. It took me 7 months to complete this prototype.

Unfortunately, I was too busy solving engineering problems. So, I didn’t notice that I was not prototyping right.

The curse of an engineer’s mind 😈

When I started Moment-rec, I had just left a job as a Hardware Designer. So, naturally my mind was focused on solving engineering problems. It’s no surprise that I kept going with this mindset. Instead, I should have adopted the mindset of a product designer. As a product designer you start by making sure your product serves a purpose. Testing the environment and situation a customer would use it in. You also research what your target audience is worrying about.

Prototyping done right ✔️

In a nutshell, here is how to really prototype a product.

  1. Test if the product solves the problem
  2. Test if it blends with the environment/situation
  3. Work out engineering problems

The most important question during prototyping is: How can I solve the problem? Every product tries to solve a problem. If we’re not able to do that, then our product is garbage. Second, the product needs to blend in with the environment and be fitted to the user.

  • A sports gadget must be able to handle drops
  • A hearing aid should be hidden and fit the user
  • A smart lock must be reliable and robust

Once you solved the first two issues, only then you should worry about how to engineer it. In the end, engineering problems are just a question of how much money you are willing to pay.

The 10 Prototypes Rule 📜

After I realized my mistake, I came up with “The 10 Prototypes Rule”. It’s how to avoid the engineer’s mindset. The idea is to at least do 5-6 prototypes before starting to worry about engineering problems. Solving engineering problems requires much effort, time and is expensive. So it’s best to leave those tasks until the end, when we’re sure we got everything else right. First, we should focus on solution, function, features and environment. We have to iterate through various prototypes until the non-engineering criteria are met.

Exponential curve explaining the 10 Prototype rule.

It’s best to start with the simplest and quickest prototype build possible. Ideally, it shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Start with pen, paper and a bit of tape. From this early prototype we can gradually increase the complexity with every iteration. We should ignore engineering problem areas as often as possible and trick, cheat and hack. So, you should use finished hardware solutions such as the Raspberry Pi, Arduino and Kits. Use simple and high-level languages that mask the problem. Don’t optimize the prototype for size, performance, or efficiency. In fact, we’re trying make the prototype more effective at solving the problem.

The Engineering Prototypes ⚙️

Once we completed between 5-6 prototypes, we can get into engineering prototypes. Here we’ll do exactly the opposite. We try to minimize resource usage, price and size. We have to try and make it work with existing technologies. It’s a fight to comply to requirements we set during the non-engineering prototype phase.

Depending on how much experience, man power and time you have, you could also outsource this step.

Conclusion

The 10 Prototypes Rule guarantees that you gather enough knowledge to write good specification. It will also prevent many expensive engineering iterations. Finally, the 10 Prototypes Rule will help you with crowdfunding. If you plan to outsource engineering to a company, then you’ll need funding. All non-engineering prototypes you created are great to show off in your campaign.

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