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Are You Ready for Your Prototype? Market study often reveals counter-intuitive facts about the market even if you think you are well acquainted with it

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A prototype is defined as an initial or preliminary version from which other forms of a product/solution is developed. This provides the innovator an insight into the functionality of the design and helps in making any changes needed with respect to the specification of the products. There are countless innovators who are constructing and deconstructing their prototypes while crafting, brainstorming, tweaking and revamping hoping to develop the "next big thing". An initial prototype might consist of only drawings on a piece of paper (low-fidelity prototype). For high-fidelity prototypes, the investment in terms of money and time is higher. Prototyping is a great way to identify if the product/solution is fit for purpose, be it for a website, a piece of hardware or software.

As an entrepreneur, it's imperative that before you simply dive into developing a product and start prototyping, you must start from the beginning to identify the most effective way of accomplishing what you're working towards. There are a couple of things an entrepreneur ought to do prior to developing a new product. The most important ones are market research, user research (including interviews) and defining the products specifications.

Sketch it Out

It might be tempting to sketch things out using software tools or directly begin coding, especially when there is a paucity of time. However, it is recommended that you start simple by using pencil and paper before moving to more complex prototyping tools. When developing something new from the scratch, the first steps are always the hardest. It may sound simple but the best way to start solidifying ideas by starting to draw. All you need is a free-form and creativity- heavy notebook to sketch the big idea. Drawing on paper gives maximum flexibility to make adjustments quickly, while digital mock-ups tend to lock you into specific details that are too early (font, colour etc) in the process and also consumes more time. Moreover, this sketch notebook will grow to be an integral part of the project when times comes to file IP or talk to a specialized firm for prototype fabrication.

Spec it Out

After sketching it out, the next step is to spec it out. While three-dimensional printing and other quick, efficient tools such as laser cutting and computer numerical control (CNC) milling has definitely changed the prototype landscape and made the life of an entrepreneur easier. However, an entrepreneur needs to design the product specification and define the functionalities of the product before these tools can provide any support. To save time and money, it is critical that that product specifications are as detailed as possible. These specifications should be as detailed as the type of material in which the product will be crafted during manufacturing.

Know your Market

Before prototyping, it is the best to talk to the potential customers to identify their interest and needs by introducing the new product concept to them. This will help in finding out of you are creating a need or solving a problem. From these interactions, a lot can be learnt about workflows and willingness of the end customer to use this new product. This also helps the innovator to learn which product modifications are necessary. Market study often reveals counter-intuitive facts about the market even if you think you are well acquainted with it.

Once these steps have been carried out in a satisfactory way, you can start product development with increased market knowledge and user experience. This experience will simplify your product development journey by a greater extent and prep you enough to start prototyping.

Muthu Singaram and Prathistha Jain

CEO, IIT Madras HTIC Incubator and Director at Vibazone Private Limited

Muthu Singaram is the CEO of IIT Madras HTIC Incubator. And, Prathistha Jain is the Director at Vibazone Pvt. Ltd. 
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