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Prototyping: Cheap & Fast

Impact Challenge winning OpenIDEATOR ponders prototyping.

Photo of Avi Solomon
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Front page from the user engagement prototype. View full prototype slideshow.
Although I was excited about my Design Challenge Card concept being selected as a winner in the Impact Challenge, I was keen to take it further with a prototype.
Using a stack of 99 cent unruled index cards to do the job, I sketched example responses to a hypothetical challenge, employing my Design Challenge Card workflow. The prototype demonstrates how a user might interact and deepen their engagement with an OpenIDEO challenge using this offline tool.
This exercise got me thinking about the nature of prototyping. Prototyping is an effective way of starting a positive collaboration around doable stuff. As someone with no formal training in Industrial Design, I've had to make an extra effort to learn how to quickly make prototypes to elicit crucial feedback and forge a path towards
implementation. Prototyping increases the likelihood of ideas having true impact. Two aspects of prototyping have been critical for me:
1. Prototyping is Cheap
A prototype does not have to be hi-fidelity. In fact a more polished prototype intimidates conversation. Using cheap materials lowers the barrier to participation and is more likely to get a spirited collaboration started. Changes can be made and tested easily. For example I once needed a way to prove that vegetables can be grown cheaply and efficiently in urban areas. All I had to do was to put together a DIY Sub-Irrigated Planter using two 5-gallon food-grade plastic buckets. I scored the buckets from a local restaurant with the rest of the materials totaling $10 and I had a fully functional urban tomato factory. Having the tomatoes growing on my balcony convinced more people of the viability of urban food production than any amount of verbal reasoning would have done.
2. Prototyping is Fast
Challenge yourself to find the quickest way to prototype something. I had to explain to my son the physics of heat and decided to quickly build a steam engine. All we needed was a copper coil, a aluminum baking ban, a tea-light candle, a binder clip and voilà we had a steam engine boat toy that was fun and educational. Total time from idea to execution was two hours – you can't beat engagement like that!
Prototyping has many more characteristics – it's fun, iterative, involving, positive, empowering, social, educational and makes you feel good! I hope you use it to bring your brilliant concepts closer to realisation.

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Photo of Edmund Ng

I think prototyping is the most challenging aspect for inventors and there don't seem to be enough resources out there that could advice budding entrepreneurs and inventors on what to look out for in terms of creating molding and what's the cheapest way to produce a particular product.

This would be helpful in educating entrepreneurs and inventors on what kind of raw materials that should be used. E.g. whether should it be made in plastic, aluminium or steel.

This would help lower the cost of production as cost is sometimes the biggest problem when it comes to marketing of products as we have commonly seen it on Shark Tan or Dragon's Den.

Edmund Ng

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