The Process of Research & Development: A Beginners Guide to Prototyping

The Process of Research & Development: A Beginners Guide to Prototyping

Posted Last Tuesday by Nyisha May Rodney

So you’ve decided you want to be a researcher or explore the realms of prototyping. First things first, ask yourself this:

Are you inquisitive? Are you prepared to ask as many questions as possible so you fully understand your clients needs?

Are you stubborn? Are you tenacious enough and determined not to quit until you get the sample or result you need?

Are you personable? Are you able to form great rapports with suppliers so you can get that eagerly awaited sample or process done in uber quick time?

If you’ve answered yes to all of the above, then you’re a third of the way there. Being a researcher or prototyping and development specialist requires an in-built desire and yearning to solve mysteries and answers. A bit like ‘Miss Marple’: you want to find out the whys, the whats,  the hows –  all so you have a greater understanding of what is it your client wants to achieve so you can help them best achieve it. But you also want to understand how processes and materials work so you can work with a supplier and form great partnerships with them as a general rule but also when you need something in two days that usually takes two weeks!

The role is very important and it’s good to remember that as, essentially, you have the power to veto an idea based on cost, physical attributes of material, processes, availability and many more based on your findings so here’s a snapshot of what’s required:

The Basics

You are your client’s right-hand person!

You can assist with the design and be influential to pre and post design stages or make improvements to an existing product but remember your main objective is to make sure that materials or a design is fit for purpose, there’s no point if it doesn’t work! A box, for example, can look beautiful when embossed and hot-stamped and shrink-wrapped yet if the paper wilts in transit, then it’s failed.

From an initial brief this is when your mind should be a flurry with questions galore but you want to understand exactly what it is your client wants and why.


I’ll break it down for you in the most simplistic form – Ready for Material Maths?

Idea/Brief + Initial Research and Development + Prototyping = Samples

Samples + Approval = Approved sample

Approved Sample + Refinements + Testing + Approval = Production!  Voila!!

Protoyping and Testing Phase

Key factors for you to bear in mind at this stage:

  • Functionality Branding
  • Customer experience
  • Speed and ease of use, production storage

You need to have even the basic understanding of the product post-sampling as this will affect your clients choice. You could have the most cost-effective material,  that complies with the clients environmental policies and corporate social responsibility policies but causes problems in full production. So an awareness of the journey this material will take from humble sample sheets to finished product is vital.  And if you don’t know? Ask. Knowledge is power.

The Importance of Product Development

So you’ve had your brief, you’ve prototyped it, the client loves it and now you need to log and list all the elements that make this idea or ‘product’ a reality so you create the spec. This is to ensure consistency and so you can cross reference and review it against the spec.

This is essentially the blueprint of the product which highlights key info for it to be produced. The look and feel, the dimensions, the processes required to achieve the look, quantity etc.

In theory, your spec should have enough details so that you could hand it to any supplier and they could produce the approved sample exactly!

It’s worth noting that Research and Development doesn’t stop once samples or specs have been created. The info that you find during sampling can be handy for mass production or relevant when deciding where production will take place (European production vs. Far East).

Ultimately, your aim is to assist your client in getting final approval, taking into account the design, cost, feasibility, and so many other factors that will achieve their goal – constant interaction and constant feedback.

It’s your job to make your clients design or dream a reality so let the mystery solving commence!