for inventors of smart devices and systems
Once you have an idea for a smart device or system and an understanding of the needs of your customers as well as the features and benefits that your competition provides, you need to do some prototyping. Your first prototypes are for internal use with your team. You want to build quick and dirty functional prototypes to figure out what you need to build to conduct your first tests with customers.
Warning: your team will probably want to build something from scratch because “it will be easier,” they’ll say. But for these early prototypes, you want to use off-the-shelf parts. Why? Because if you build something from scratch, the building might be easier, but pivoting from your initial idea will be harder because you’ll have an unhealthy attachment to your creation. So in these early days, it’s best to use off-the-shelf parts because your team needs to be nimble in these early stages of product development. Below are some ideas for off-the-shelf parts that you can use for prototyping.
For your hardware, there are dozens if not hundreds of off-the-shelf platforms to chose from: Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Flora, Particle, Bean, and many variations on size, power, communication protocols, and capability. Start with breadboarding, then solder it up for customer testing.
If you have an app component for your device, wireframing platforms abound: InVision, Balsamiq, Mockups, and on. All allow the quick design of app architecture which can then be tested and tweaked with your team before you test it with customers.
As for the form of your product, you could 3D model and print something right away. But in the early days, off-the-shelf materials allow you and your team to be more fluid than if you were to model and print original designs. You are better off using wood, cardboard, cardstock, fabric, thermo-plastic, or air curing foam or rubber.
Off-the-shelf parts and materials are natural extensions of your sketchbook and pencil and whiteboard. These parts will help you bring your ideas to life quickly so that you can test these ideas with your team and then test them with customers to see if you are on the right track. And if you aren’t on the right track, prototypes made from off-the-shelf parts make it easy–both technically and psychologically–for your team to go back to the studio and make the changes that need to be made.