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Spend your development budget on prototypes, not labor

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

When a development proposal comes out higher than a client's budget, usually the materials costs are the first to be trimmed. "We'll just build fewer iterations and spend more time in design up front."

Cutting materials costs to win a project makes sense from a business owner perspective if we only look at protecting the labor revenue stream. But it doesn't make sense for the team working on the project.

Designers can get creative when faced with limited design hours.

We can shortcut the CAD work and design out non-critical features to get to a working prototype quickly.

Parallel Processing

With development teams increasingly diverse and spread out across the world, it can be difficult to stay unified as designs pivot and change. By sending engineering development models to team members on a regular basis keeps them up to date with designs as they change. Sometimes, feedback comes from an unlikely source. Someone will receive an early prototype development sample of a device, and run into an unpredicted failure mode. Engaging your client by sending half-broken early-stage prototypes keeps the excitement up and accelerates the design feedback loop.

Make ideas real, faster

On paper, anything is possible. With my magic pencil, I can draw anything and it will look possible.

Sometimes we make concepts on paper that just won't work in real life. Use a crude prototype to prove an idea before investing time in a particular direction. Grab some hot-glue and cardboard and mock it up. Is it a linkage or mechanism that needs to be optimized? Ignore it. Focus on first-principal thinking to have successful concepts.

Eliminating Assumptions

Sometimes our concept sketches and pretty renderings tell a story that's misinterpreted by our clients. One way to confirm expectations is to build your idea. Focus on the cheapest, fastest way to test the assumption that we're interested in.

If it's device size or shape, can we build something with clay or cardboard?

If it's device weight and we're interested in useability, can we tape a few 12-pack cases of soda together to test this?

I know that the materials costs are more important than the labor budget. No amount of design and simulation will replace a prototype in your hands.

It isn't until we have physical prototypes in our hands that we get real feedback.


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