What is a prototype?
A prototype is, in short, a preliminary version of an object. It is the physical representation of a vision but not yet a finished product. During the process that preludes the placing on the market of an object or the realization of a project, there are several stages in which a prototype allows you to benefit from its usefulness. In fact, the prototypes perform their very important function allowing to refine, according to the specific objectives of each company operating area, all the different development phases: performance tests, economic evaluation (both cost and revenue), marketing, tests and research market, physical production (difficulties and timing), etc. Activities that cannot be performed without an actual physical realization of the object / project even if represented realistically with a render.
There are in fact different types of prototypes whose characteristics vary according to the development phase in which they are made:
Appearance prototype: must not contain specific details or functionality; they may not even be made with the production materials, usually more expensive. Appearance prototypes are made in the early stages of the process and their purpose is exclusively to physically represent the object. They also allow to carry out tests and market research, presenting them to potential customers and asking them for feedback on different characteristics: aesthetics, dimensions, sale price, utility, etc …
This type of prototype cannot be subjected to physical or functional tests, but allows other very important uses. An appearance prototype can, for example, be used for market research: companies can present their similar prototype to potential customers, asking them for an opinion on the appearance of the product (or on aesthetic or dimensional details, for example) and to contribute to the definition of the best characteristics.
Functional prototype: it is more than just a physical representation but it is still different from the final version of the product. The functional prototype is used to experiment and validate the use of some specific functions of the imagined object / project. Specific tests will be carried out on the prototype to ascertain whether the product will be suitable for the intended use. During the verifications, the results obtained suggest mostly adaptations but may also suggest new features and / or new opportunities for using the product.
Pre-production prototype: while appearance prototypes and functional prototypes are generally made in the early stages of the development process, pre-production prototypes are made, as the name indicates, when all the previous stages are almost completed, the final version has been defined and the product must be placed on the market.
This type of prototype allows to optimize, verify and standardize production processes and flows. In this phase, Creatives hardly ever participate, who give way to production managers. This kind of prototype is usually made with the final materials, those of production. They contain all the aesthetic, dimensional, performance details and all the functionality of the finished product. However, they do not go on the market. They are also almost always used to make the technical data sheets and acquire the certifications necessary for placing the product on the market.