Yesterday when I returned from a hiking trip to Mt. Baldy with my family, I found my prototype waiting at the front door.
Let me back up. About four months ago, my friend and I were talking about diaper bags. The bulky, cumbersome ones that we´d received at our baby showers did not impress us. Not only were they difficult to carry while we were juggling a newborn in our hands, but now that our daughters are a bit older the only purpose they serve is as dust collectors in our already overstuffed closets.
Hence, our new diaper bag design was born.
Our first step was to look at the other product lines available in our market. We wanted to make sure that our idea had not already been taken before we began working on the design. While there are a lot of great products out there, we didn´t find any that fit our specifications. However, we did gain an enormous amount of information about the design of ours: fabrics to use, possible designs, the size of the finished product, and the closures, just to name a few.
Next we discussed creating a prototype. This can actually be quite an expensive part of designing a new product, especially if an inventor has an idea that needs to be built by an engineer. Lucky for us, though we can´t sew a stitch, our mothers can. So we spent some time finding fabrics that we liked, along with accessories (buttons, lining material, zippers), and we sent our ideas off with our moms.
Fast forward to yesterday, when I unwrapped the prototype.
I was ecstatic. The sample turned out so much better than I had envisioned. I immediately transferred all of my belongings into the bag and carried it to the grocery store.
Do you need a prototype?
Consider this: It took Folgers three tries to develop a freeze-dried coffee that consumers agreed tasted and smelled like fresh coffee.
And according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Center, 40% of new packaged consumer products and 18% of new service products fail. While the development and refinement of a prototype might not be the sole reason behind these failures, it does show that all new products must go through a round or two (or three) of revisions before hitting the store shelves.
I found several design flaws while testing out the new bag. For one, some of my measurements were off. The interior pockets, which I thought would be deep enough, were not, and the coordinating changing pad needs to be larger, as does the length of the purse. These things and a few others will be changed and a new prototype will be designed with the revisions in place.
There are many things that I love about the bag as well, including the funky design and fabric (mine is a hobo bag while my girlfriend´s mom created the prototype for the more classic design). I love the fact that the bag is filled with pockets, and also that it can be used after the children are no longer in diapers. Lastly, I developed an accessory that goes along with the diaper bag. It is one that I haven´t seen in all of my researching, and one I always felt was much needed when changing my baby in public. While I won´t share the details at this point, I will say that the prototype is flawless: it is the correct size, will fit easily into the diaper bag, and can stand alone as its own product line.
And so this is what developing a prototype does for a new business: It gives you the power to fix the flaws of your original idea before sending your product out onto the shelves.
Originally our plan was to have the bags ready for a February advertising. Now the date has been pushed up to April. Our timeline was off a bit. We thought the samples would be completed much more quickly, yet developing an idea takes time, and then turning that idea into a tangible product takes even longer.
Don´t shortchange yourself when it comes to the development phase, though. This, to me, has been the most important step so far. Without creating a working sample of the product, I would have never understood what needed to be changed. Now I do, and I hope that, when the next prototype arrives at my doorstep, I am ready to move into the next phase: advertising.
Below are a few links I´ve referred to during the design of the bags.
Read more about the reasons to develop a prototype, along with a few practical ideas: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/0,4621,278018,00.html
Information about developing and refining a product: http://www.uschamber.com/sb/business/P03/P03_4000.asp
Article on new product development: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_product_development