Prototype comes from the Greek word prototypon, or “primitive form.” The word can be broken down into protos, meaning “first,” and typos, meaning “impression.” The Macmillan Dictionary defines it as “the first form of something new, made before it is produced in large quantities” or “the first or most typical example of something.”
Every industry uses a prototype one way or the other. Because it is the “first impression” or “primitive form” of something, manufacturers, businesses, developers are able to build, evaluate, and re-work a design concept. It is a vital tool because the product stops being abstract and becomes concrete.
Through building, parts are identified, estimated, and tested, production costs are determined, production processes are studied and evaluated, and production lead time is calculated. Once the prototype is available, it is now possible to see what is good and what is wrong with their design as quality tests are performed.
After thorough evaluation is done, re-working the design is now possible. Or, the designers may choose to abandon the project and start on a new one. Developing prototypes is essential in making sound business decisions before committing to manufacturing or coming out with the complete or final product or design.
Prototyping can be applied in many industries, domains, or fields. We see it more commonly in the following:
Many things are conceptualized in the field of engineering (electrical, mechanical, electronics), new inventions or innovations alike. To test if a concept or idea is viable and realistic, prototypes are used. Prototypes allow designers to verify if an idea actually works, to figure out design flaws, to reduce any risk a design might have, or to improve a current design. But when it becomes impractical to build a physical prototype, especially vehicles (cars, ships, aircraft), computer modeling is employed. Prototypes help companies make the necessary adjustments before embarking on the full production of a design.
Computer sciences / Information systems
The use of prototypes in computer programming is to test if a program works. Usually referred to as alpha, this prototype is developed as the base or working model of a software program; it is not the full or complete program. A few functionalities are tested on the alpha. If it proves stable, the beta is developed, which includes all the functionalities of the program and tests are run on how the entire program functions. Developers gather critical feedback from users regarding the prototypes and can quickly make adjustments on the program.
Prototyping has been around for centuries. Innovations and development to further improve prototyping is inevitable. But however the process changes, the concept and its value will remain the same.