Prototype Lab

The word prototype comes from the Latin words proto (original) and typus (model).

Prototyping seems like a simple concept until you try and define it or its fast moving friend – “rapid” prototyping.

“A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product or system built to test a concept or assumption or to act as a thing to be tested and learned from.” it’s a space for hardware startups to prototype and build.

The Prototyping Lab is equipped with 3D printers, woodworking equipment, an electronics workbench, CNC Mills, CNC laser cutters and much more.

The role of the Prototyping and Fabrication Lab is to provide an opportunity through design to move from theory to practice in a safe and supportive learning environment. The lab is available to students and faculty in support of their educational project work and is staffed by lab professionals and student lab leaders who are skilled in the equipment and processes necessary for the execution of project designs.

Users are required to take an introductory safety orientation in order to access the lab. Once completed, are granted general access to the shop, basic hand tools and assembly areas.

To use equipment not covered during the safety orientation (mills, drill press, laser cutter…), equipment introductions must be completed before solo-use is permitted. All non-course based equipment introductions must be coordinated through the professional shop staff and may be scheduled by contacting the main lab technician

There are many different types of prototyping,

1. Sketches and Diagrams

One of the most basic types of prototyping available is the old-fashioned hand drawing. Sketch out your ideas and run the resulting model through the filter of what works and doesn’t work with the laws of nature. Mind maps allow you to illustrate a process and develop building blocks for your concept.

Sketches work for both products and digital goods such as apps, websites and software. For digital products, sketch out the user journey, diagramming the path the buyer takes.

2. Three-Dimensional Printing

Basic 3D printers are now available at very reasonable prices making them an option for many small businesses.

Also called rapid prototype, a computer-aided design (CAD) allows you to produce a quick model of your product for testing, check aesthetics and make sure changes to the design work from a physics standpoint.

3. Lego Prototype

A less expensive option for startups is using Legos for prototyping. Building a solid model allows you to understand the scope and size of the finished product. This helps you in development because the weight and size of a product impact everything from ease of use to shipping costs. Lego prototyping works best for items with simple shapes.

4. Wireframing

Wireframing works well for apps and website designs. Essentially, you create a backend structure for your design. You make sure all the elements work correctly before taking it live.

Wireframing gives you a visual and working model of the buyer’s journey. Typically, it would not have images, but boxes where different elements appear on the page.

5. Feasibility Prototypes

There are times when you’re creating a new design that you’ll suddenly have an idea about a feature for the finished product. However, sometimes it’s hard to know how feasible the add-on is and if it will work the way you want. Creating a feasibility prototype allows you to test a specific element and see how it functions with the rest of the design. You may have multiple feasibility models, which you use to test different features.

Feasibility prototypes work with both physical and digital goods, although the testing is a bit different for each. With a physical product, you’ll have a concrete model. With a digital good, you’ll test functions via a wireframe or the backend of a design before taking the changes live.

6. Working Model

Toward the end of the design process, you’ll need a working model to make sure the final materials and manufacturing work the way you’d like them to. Ask the manufacturer to give you a proof of the finished product from the molds created based on your final designs. A working model needs to be tested thoroughly, so you may want more than one copy. Put your prototype through rigorous tests. If the typical user will use it twice a day, test it for use 10 times a day and see if it breaks. Keep the quality as high as possible within the budget you have, and you’ll improve your company’s reputation.