What is a Prototype?

A prototype is a full scale, three dimensional mock-up of a design.  It is a form that will be replicated, using a plaster mold and casting slip.  The prototype is a tool to test the design, concept, and scale of new form and often is the final stage in the design process.  Since the prototype is a step in the design process, and not the final piece, it can be made of almost any material, including clay, wood, glass, metal, plastic, stone, rubber,or other material.

Sometimes the word ‘model’ is used interchangeably with prototype.  The word ‘model’ can also be a verb for sculpting a plastic material such as clay.  Prototype is a more accurate description for our purposes.

More about Prototypes

After designing a new form with paper cut-out shapes, making a full scale, three dimensional prototype is the next step.  The protoype give you the opportunity to see flaws in the form and to test other aspects of the form that were not developed, or could not be seen, in the two-dimensional design process

In the free video, "Quantum Leap" the prototype is formed directly, so the design process is integrated with the actual making of the prototype. 

Certain 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) software programs can help create more realistic-looking prototypes . The CAD designs can be printed on a rapid prototype machine or milled on a CNC router by you or someone else.  Eventually, you'll have a physical prototype of your design made either with digital means or by hand.  

There are advantages and disadvantages to both CAD and handmade prototypes.  These will be different for different people and their different design and aesthetic goals.

In the industrial setting, a series of prototypes with subtle variations will be designed, constructed and tested.  The results of such a process can be seen at auto shows when manufacturers display ‘concept cars’.  They are testing and stretching their notions about what cars are and what they can be.  While these cars may never be seen on the road, they are an important part of the design process as the ideas and design are progressively refined.


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