• Kyle Visner

Ready to prototype? Time to get ugly

An Ugly Prototype
An early prototype of a computer mouse.

So, you’ve identified a market need, you’ve identified some early customers and now your ready to bring your product dreams to life. I know you have grand ambitions about flowing lines and flawless finishes, but I have some news for you. Your early prototypes will be ugly, and that’s a good thing.

Hardware projects are tough. Unlike software, there are very real laws of physics to content with. That is why it’s so important to make sure you solve the hard problems first. Enter, the ugly prototypes. Early stage prototypes are all about reducing risk in the project. By exploring the problem space with quick and dirty prototypes, you can learn faster and test assumptions without a large investment in engineering or commercialization.

Your first prototypes will be breadboards. They will be huge, not permanently connected in any way, and probably not very mobile either. These are important to start solving some of the hard problems that will provide some constraints to you later designs, like power usage, component selection and size. This is a critical phase of your process as it provides real data to back up earlier assumptions.

Your next prototypes will be either really oversized, low density printed circuit boards, or protoboards, a type of soldered breadboard. Both are just solutions to allow your prototype to be placed in situ. At this point, you can have a basic enclosure made up, usually though 3D printing, and start testing your device in the real places where it will be used.

Raspberry Pi
A Raspberry Pi, a commonly used prototyping board for more complex projects.

Finally, it’s important to understand that there may be many iterations of these prototypes. Some iterations may be to test and validate new ideas, others may be to solve problems with previous iterations. But while they may not always look much like the beautiful, finished product you have in your head, they are a critically important part of bringing your product to life.