It’s exciting to develop a new product or discover ways to improve upon an inefficient design. Perhaps you’ve already found a unique solution, or you’re eager to be the one that finds it and invents something valuable and rare. However, no matter how exceptional your idea —or future idea— may be, there are a few essential steps to take before prototyping your concept. Here’s a short list of what steps to follow, starting at the very beginning; discovery.

Discover a Problem Worth Solving

The best products solve a pre-existing issue. The simplest way to discover what problems need solutions is to take a more critical view in your own life. Instead of accepting things as “this is the way things are and always have been”, try to notice what products are cumbersome, overly complicated, cause irritation or confusion. Similarly, notice what things in your life might be made easier.

Research for Existing Solutions

You have had a Eureka! moment; you’ve found the problem that is begging to be solved. It may be a small niche issue for a select group, or something that reaches a wide demographic. Before you get too excited, do your due-diligence and begin to research if there is already an existing product that solves this problem.

While investigating what is already out there, work on clearly defining the need for the product you want to create. This will help you realize early on what obstacles your product must overcome to be considered viable.

Get Creative!

Chances are you will have lots of ideas running through your mind. Get them all on paper! You’ll save time by sketching all your ideas out on paper instead of trying to draw them in a digital program. Documenting your design process also falls under many requirements according to the International Standards of Operation that value transparency at all stages of development.

No, Really: Do Your Research

Even though you’ve already done your initial research and haven’t found an existing competitor, it doesn’t mean that your product —or a version that is similar— doesn’t already exist. It may simply be that you can’t find the existing product on your own. You can —and should— hire firms to do this search for you and even make suggestions on the “white space” in mature or saturated markets.  If your design isn’t entirely original, but you think it’s a legitimate improvement on what is already offered in the market, then you may have an idea worth developing.

Here is a list of sites that can help you with your search:

If you find that your idea isn’t already original, an experienced product development company can help you explore the “white space”,  areas the current patent did not address, or help you take a different approach for the same problem.

Get A Provisional Patent

While the United States used to allow people to claim ownership of an invention by proving they were the “first-to-invent” and showing detailed sketches and documentation, they have changed the rules and require a “first-to-file”. This can be challenging if your product isn’t complete and ready to be patented yet. However, you can get a Provisional Patent and have up to 12 months to develop a design that can be patented. This will keep others from beating you to market. Find out how to copyright your design or look into getting a provisional patent here.

Make a Prototype ASAP!

There is nothing more important during the beginning stages of product development than getting a working prototype available. Not only will investors and stakeholders take you more seriously, but it will also assist you in proposing realistic timelines and assessing the breadth and scope of your product. It’s possible to make a low-fidelity prototype in a few hours or days, with modern resources that are, more or less, fairly available.

The initial prototype won’t be perfect, but will be useful. A low-fidelity prototype should be fast, inexpensive and as close to the specifications of your design as possible. Whether you’re a large company or a less-funded individual, creating a prototype that users can interact with will get you on track and closer to market-ready than any other product research approach.

Usability Testing

Collecting good user research data is essential to product development success. A good prototype is always focused on the end-user. Aim for the best possible experience for the user as well as functionality of the product. Creating a product prototype is helpful in two important ways. First, early prototyping helps bring the team together to collaborate and understand the limitations, obstacles, and goals early on. Secondly, it provides a tangible product that can be presented to clients and stakeholders.

However, the most important reason to do prototyping early on is to get the prototype into the hands of the user and do usability testing. Enlist the help of an experienced product development company to ensure the proper standards of operation are being followed and that useful data is being collected. It is usually near impossible to get entirely unbiased test-results from users, but there are subtle techniques that an experienced design team can implement to make sure the data you get is as accurate as possible. They will also have resources available to explore different types of material, sizes, and versions of the prototype that assist in design evaluation.

Usability testing assesses the ergonomics, functionality, and ease-of-use for the end user interacting with the product. You want to give them the best prototype possible so you’re getting an accurate read on whether or not your product will serve its intended purpose. You will very likely have a few different prototypes, so be prepared to try out several ideas in the beginning in order to get the feedback and results you need to move forward as fast as possible. Remember, the best product doesn’t beat the first product to market.

When you get closer to the final iteration, you’ll want to ensure that your product meets factory and industry standards and safety regulations. Standards of operation and design must be followed and adhered to, especially in industrial design and medical device production, or else the product won’t be able to be released. Again, an experienced company will assist with the design specifications, manufacturability, and will make certain the prototype and end product meets the expectations of stakeholders and clients.