Important stuff! In this third installment of our series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at building a wearable tech brand, Karol Muñoz, lead designer and co-founder of wearable tech startup Luma Legacy talks about different ways to prototype for a startup.
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Someone once told me that if you are not embarrassed by your first prototype, you are not testing early enough.
Our latest design prototype is 3D printed plastic, spray painted silver and accented with decidedly tacky rhinestones. It looks like a Claire’s bracelet for tweens. Everytime we show it to someone we make a joke to let them know the we are fully aware of how ridiculous it looks. As silly as it is, it has given us the opportunity to loosely show how our bracelet will look and work. While we are working on something that is higher fidelity, people can play with our current prototype, put it on their wrists and just get it.
Prototyping allows you to test different aspects of your idea without actually having to build all of it. It is a learning tool, not a lesser version of your product. Especially with hardware, you need to find out what the problems are as soon as possible. You don’t want to have your product in the manufacturing line only to find out something you could’ve learned prototyping with foam core. Stuff breaks all the time and you want it to happen in your prototyping cycle.
Prototyping should be quick and cost you as close to $0 as possible—find some tape and paperclips or a hot glue gun! It will help you suss out things like cost, materials, lead time and, just in general, will help you plan out the steps you need to take. Prototype everything, from your the user experience right down to the bow on top of your packaging. It will also push people to take you seriously. Most people show up with ideas, you my darling will show up with a prototype in hand and prove not only that you are inventing something, but that you are also invested.
The quickest way to get something out there is often by not integrating, but by testing out all aspects of the design individually. Why take the time to build something complex when the design is destined to change. Iteration over integration, always.
Types of prototyping:
The goal is not to test a design but to communicate the value of a product. Before you worry about the complexity of the interaction, create an experience that is close enough just to test if people want these “features” in their lives. You can be making software, hardware or offering a service; the experience can be faked to learn if users will actually find value in it.
A gestural prototype can be a 3D version of your product or good ol’ paper to show button placement if you are making an app. Loosely represent the form of your interface with just enough fidelity to help your users understand what the environment is. At a higher fidelity this is known as your “looks-like” prototype.
Build your “works-like” prototype in portions. Use hardware that already exists to proof your ideas before jumping into building your own custom hardware solutions. At Luma Legacy we started off by playing with all of the protoboards. From breadboards and Arduinos, to creating our own LittleBits IFTTT recipes, this approach made hardware feel less hard. Eventually you will have enough information to hone in on the hardware that you need to make the product that you want, and even then there will be a preexisting solution!
An integrated prototype is when your looks-like and works-like prototype come together. The first iteration of it might be 3-times bigger than your desired size and that’s OK. It still proves you know what you have to do and tests all of the different elements of your design.
Any successful product company will create a culture of curiosity. You need to learn what problems you are facing and the quicker you do it, the faster you’ll execute the right product. Validate your ideas with scrappy research and rapid prototyping.
In Karol’s next part of the series, she’ll dive into creating brand value for a fashion tech company through positioning and personality.
Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.