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What is a 'prototype'?

Invention Prototypes And Production

Spencer Brown (Inventor And Founder) gives expert video advice on: What is a 'prototype'?; What are the best ways to produce a prototype?; How do I get materials for my invention? and more...

What is a 'prototype'?

A prototype for an inventor is usually a handmade or a homemade replication or demonstration of the product that you want to make. An example is a hand sewn garment would be a prototype. If you were prototyping a fishing lure you would actually bend coat hanger wire and you would fasten that. If you were going to make a prototype for, in my case a box, I actually crafted it from a cardboard box and I cut it and angled it and used duct tape - very crude. Think making your first cool fortress when you were six and seven years old and that is a prototype.

What are the best ways to produce a prototype?

My formula has always been - I actually draw it. I know people are like, "I'm not a very good drawer." I'm a terrible drawer, I can't even put two straight lines together. What I do is I draw the product, and then I contract out with an illustrator to actually illustrate out the product. I actually get a 3 dimensional visual as to what it looks like. Then I'll actually craft the material in Femo. Femo is a polymer clay that you can actually mold with your hands, and then heat in the oven, and then make it hard. Another product is called Sculpey, and I'll actually make the products in Sculpey because I can explain the nuances of the design by actually working in clay. Like play-dough, but it gets hard.

What qualities should I look for in a manufacturer?

I always like the eyeball test. If he looks you straight in the eye and he shakes your hand, and you don't get a weird feeling, then you're probably in good hands. Manufacturers are there to make product. They're there to make profit. They are always looking for new people to work for. A manufacturer might make their own product, but they're usually jobbers. So if they've been in business for thirty years, there's a good chance they're there because they've done things right for thirty years.

What's a 'product life cycle'?

A product life cycle really starts in an incubation period, where you're really crafting the idea, where you're taking the idea and you're fleshing out prototypes, and you're working on your product design, material selection, and patents. After the incubation period, when you actually sell the product, that's called the product birth. So the first time you sell a product, the first sale -- and it can't be to a friend or family, you have to someone who is into the product -- we call that the birth. From the birth until about age five, all you're doing is learning the customer, learning how to make it, finding a better way to package it, communicating it. The second stage, after birth to first five years, is what we call the developmental stage. That's where you're working negotiations, licenses, distribution, and out. Your third phase, we call that the adolescent phase, where the product is integrated, it gets a little off-track, it gets a little sideways, quality starts to become an issue. The last final phase is what we call consumer integration phase, where if you've done your job correctly, as an inventor, anybody that could use the product and benefit from it, saving time and money, has adopted it and used it.