Prototyping: The Art of Being Wrong Prototyping: The Art of Being Wrong

Prototyping is an essential part of the production process, but often it’s skipped because people want to get it right the first time. When you think about it however, how often do things work out THE VERY FIRST TIME you do something? Often when people set out to build something, there is this picture in their minds. And then the act of building is to make that picture a real thing. While that desire and drive comes from a good place, they can be impediments to the process. While the end goal is that picture in your head, you have to realize getting there requires an often difficult journey.

When you start working with the tools common to your makerspace, laser cutter, 3D printer, etc, the first step is to visualize the possibilities and all the creations. They are vehicles by which your creations travel from your brain to the real world. The second step is to look at those same tools and gauge their strength and weakness towards building up prototypes. Makerspaces have all of these things available, but keeping these characteristics in mind will provide for a more efficient design process.

For example, should you 3D print the whole part, or could you cut it out of a single sheet of plywood like a flat pack? The laser cutter is fast, and can give you pretty good detail/resolution on the 2D plane, a 3D printer gives a lot of customization, but is slow to build(relatively). I’ve often seen individuals want to 3D print their product idea, only to be turned off by length of time or difficulties that arise the larger prints become. Taking the next step in manifesting your ideas requires a larger and longer view.

There are two sides to product design. One side is the rush and euphoria that comes with imagining and seeing your thoughts made manifest, and the second side is from all the frustrations and difficulties that come along. Many people underestimate the time and effort that goes into making even though there are those that it comes to those naturally. Even though people like that may exist, for the rest of us, it takes work. I’d also wager that it’s not an easy task as well. Too often we regard genius as an innate characteristic, and not something honed and cultivated through hard work, experience, and diligence.

Goodwork is often dependent on the proper mindset. Here are three things to keep in your mind when prototyping.

  1. Substitutions will happen
  2. It’s okay to be wrong, and often necessary
  3. Be quick about it

The first step is to accept that aspects of your project are going to change.

When you’re building something there’s this picture in your head. The experience of building becomes an exercise in creating that object in excruciating detail. That’s where the process ends, but right now we’re at the beginning and need to focus on other things.

Product design is an iterative process. There are steps to it and sometimes you have to repeat them. Focusing on smaller, does not mean unimportant, details early on is a quick route to the morass. Say you want to make an object out of precious metal, expensive material, or some sort of exotic substance. While you will want to get familiar with the material, due to things like cost or acquisition time, it would be more efficient to work with a cheaper more accessible material to work out your design until you got to the part where you have to use the actual material. Because of that “mental picture” we often don’t want to compromise in our processes. To work effectively and efficiently, we must. We can imagine about what we would do with unlimited time and budget. Until that is achieved, we substitute.

Second is to accept that you’re going to be wrong and that’s okay.

I’d go so far as to say that you’re going to have to be wrong, sometimes. Failure is often more instructive than success. So you’ve got this thing to build. Do you have all the information you need? No, because if you did you would already built it. To complete this task, you’re going to need to obtain new information and possibly new skills. How do you obtain that? Research gets you so far, but as some point you are going to need to experiment a bit. And what better way to experiments by building something and analyzing it.

Prototyping allows us to test aspects of designs and find answers to the questions we have. To build properly, we have to make guesses, and sometimes those guesses are gonna be wrong. Also we have to be able to revise or reformulate our ideas when we receive information that contradicts out initial assumptions. We have to allow that our initial assertions might be flawed, or downright wrong. As individuals, not many of us enjoy being wrong. However, to be in such a mindset is essential for good product design.

Third is to be quick about it, or more specifically, not to be slow about it.

There is an inherent ownership of and idea or product in your head. It has to be perfect and adhere to the highest standards of craftsmanship, right? That’s that “mental picture” again. Reality often falls short of the ideas in our minds. That’s why product design is iterative. We build, refine, revise.

The thing about building a product is that time is expensive. You want to span the information deficit between idea and goal as quickly as you can. We substitute because it saves time and focus our efforts. We are wrong because failure is often more instructive than success. We are fast because life is short. We want to break down our product design process into the things we need to know, and the things that we need to do find the things we know. Prototyping is an excellent way to resolve these issues. You must take care to be targeted, open-minded, and quick with your prototypes. Running through this cycle repeatedly and quick will help you get your designs off the paper(or maybe computer) and in your hand. Which is the whole point, right?

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