Prototyping

What is a prototype?

Wikipedia says

A prototype is an early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from. It is a term used in a variety of contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software programming. A prototype is designed to test and trial a new design to enhance precision by system analysts and users. Prototyping serves to provide specifications for a real, working system rather than a theoretical one.

Nowhere in this description does it say that a prototype has to look good. No where does it say that a prototype is the finished product. It does say that a prototype is a tool for learning…

Many students come to DLC Labs to make a prototype and then paint their parts to look good. I understand the thought that if the object looks good it is good. However, as an engineer, I have to say that I am more interested in how well something works than how good it looks.

It pains me to waste resources and time making a “pretty” prototype that is to be used for display and thrown away. This is not an effective use of the shop, the college, or a student’s time, and resources. It says to me that you might be  sacrificing good work and substituting in its place false appearances.

A prototype is for learning what works and what doesn’t. It is for challenging preconceived notions and changing unexpected outcomes into revolutionary ideas. It is a tool for making connections between thoughts that no one has ever made before. A prototype can be a piece of paper. It can be an entire car. But most importantly, it is an idea that is made real.

But , I have to say that rarely do the thoughts and ideas that have been laboriously worked over and mashed together look pretty. Sometimes, a prototype shown to a customer elicits disappointment that changes the whole dynamic process of discovery. Remember that prototypes are for team learning and not really meant for your customer unless the customer has been in close intimate contact with the entire design process.  This closeness allows them to see and quantify the learning that has occurred.

So.

What is a prototype?

It is a tool for learning and discovery.

My 2 cents. – An Engineer

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