Commerce and Consumer Goods

Product development in record time with the Experience Prototype

Hardly any other industry is as fast moving and competitive as the consumer goods industry. While enormous speed is required across the entire consumer goods industry, it is particularly significant in sectors such as home appliances, consumer electronics and fast moving consumer goods. As well as speed, these sectors are experiencing very strong pressures to innovate.

6 minutes to read
With insights from...

  • Speed as a challenge and a trend in the consumer goods market

  • The types of prototypes used

  • The advantages of the Experience Prototype

  • The Experience Prototype using an actual product example

Fast product development that makes us competitive and satisfies customers? Yes, it's possible! We show you how to achieve exactly that with an Experience Prototype.

Hardly any other industry is as fast moving and competitive as the consumer goods industry. While enormous speed is required across the entire consumer goods industry, it is particularly significant in sectors such as home appliances, consumer electronics and fast moving consumer goods. As well as speed, these sectors are experiencing very strong pressures to innovate.

With the digital transformation, the trend towards speed has been further intensified due to additional opportunities to use new technologies and services. Along with these diversifying customer requirements, there are other, overriding trends that must be taken into account.

These include automation, decentralisation, sustainability, individualisation, and thus customer focus, as well as product and customer security (data protection).

At Zühlke Insights we go into precisely these issues. In the following article we talk about the issue of speed that has been mentioned several times already.

What's this speed thing all about?

Speed refers in particular to the factor known as Time-to-Market: the term means the period from the start of product development up to the placement of the product on the market.

It becomes particularly tricky when taking into account the active customer feedback. The requirements, expectations and responses must be recorded and included in the ongoing product development as quickly as possible to ensure a fast Time-to-Market.

How can we be in full control of this kind of process? In the article 'Agile system development and the three engineers', my colleague Thomas Rahn discusses agile product and system development, with its peculiarities, challenges and advantages. In addition, you'll find an exciting article by Neil Moorcroft on the topic of User and Customer Experience: 'Three steps to removing friction from customer journeys.' As a general rule, to implement customer-focussed product development in record time we need to merge the competencies of agile system or product development with those of user and customer experience. People work closely together as a team to make the transitions and iterative feedbacks as smooth and fluid as possible.

One popular method (among many other possibilities) is the creation of a fast prototype, also known as the Experience Prototype.

Quick-to-implement prototypes

The Experience Prototype consists of two prototype forms: 'Looks Like Prototype' and 'Works Like Prototype'. The following explains what this is all about.

Looks Like Prototype: With this type of prototype, the design, or User Experience, takes precedence. The purpose of the prototype is to find out whether the type of design and the user guidance are well received by the customer. What is the customer reaction to the touchable prototype? It's all about dimensions, subjective surface values, and colour schemes. The Looks Like Prototype does not include any functionality!

Works Like Prototype: The Works Like Prototype is quite the opposite. Functionality has first priority here. The prototype is used to test the feasibility of a product. The main functions (those with the highest added value or with the highest risk) are therefore implemented in the fast prototypes. We expressly do not attach any importance to the exterior – on the contrary, this type of prototype is usually quite deliberately the "ugly duckling". Colouring and appearance are not detailed. We pay no attention to the space available in the final product, as long as the concept to be tested has the potential to be made smaller. This is all done to save time and budget.

Experience Prototype: A combination of both prototypes is a natural progression and is called an Experience Prototype. Here we implement haptics, user guidance and design in combination with the main functions – so that end customers can evaluate design and function. In a test phase, we can thus obtain a valid statement about their purchase decision.

Initially this sounds as if an overall development of the product is taking place at this point. This is absolutely not the case, however. The inner workings of the Experience Prototype are far from being ready for series production. The internal components are not yet optimised for low cost, long life or optimal assembly. For example, we might use hand-painted housings, which are far too expensive to produce in series production. The omission of features such as security or the good maintainability of the software also saves valuable development time.

Combination of "Looks Like" and "Feels Like" prototype

Mit einem Experience Prototype ergeben sich die folgenden Vorteile:

An Experience Prototype delivers the following advantages:

  • The user feedback on usability, user experience, design and feature set can be tested within a few weeks and under realistic conditions.
  • Since the Experience Prototype looks as if it is ready for series production, the statements on the willingness to buy are much more meaningful. It is even possible not to declare the test as such, but to simulate a real sales pitch. The answers to the following two questions differ drastically in their significance! 'We're doing a test; could you imagine buying this prototype?' versus 'We have a novel product on the market; would you like to buy it?'
  • In principle, the Experience Prototype helps to make an early decision with comparatively little effort and budget about whether the product provides added value for the user and whether it is worth investing money in series development.

What can such an Experience Prototype look like, and how do you proceed?

Our Swiss colleagues provide an actual example with the Greenhouse. In this case, a greenhouse with an app connection was designed within a week.

An interdisciplinary team with expertise in industrial design, mechanics, electronics, embedded software and mobile software worked intensively on the Experience Prototype. The aim was to design a small functional greenhouse as a household appliance that controls its own lighting, ventilation and irrigation according to need – while still looking chic and ready for series production.

In order to develop such a state of the art device in a very short time, it is important to mainly use tools and manufacturing processes that the team is already familiar with! A little experimentation is possible, but brings the risk of delays. It is therefore very helpful to build from a base of existing artefacts and knowledge.

In detail, the mechanical parts came from Zühlke's in-house 3D printer and were available within hours. Standardised electronic components from the professional prototyping platform Tinkerforge were also used (soldering cables or developing circuit boards was not necessary). This enables individual actuator and sensor components to be controlled and tested directly via USB and the PC. After successful testing, the sequence control can then be quickly transferred to a standalone CPU. The programming software is freely selectable thanks to the Tinkerforge platform. The team members are now orienting themselves back towards their individual disciplines in order to also pick up speed in those areas.

Parallel development in the various disciplines, with a view to the gradual and continuous integration of individual development artefacts enables rapid progress and avoids a big-bang integration shortly before the deadline. Finally, after just a few days, the fully functional Experience Prototype is available for testing with real users.

View the greenhouse prototype in 3D via the Vuframe app:

Greenhouse-prototype in Vuframe-App


There are already some promising approaches and methods for meeting the constant and continuous pressure for innovation in the consumer goods market.

On the basis of an agile system and product development, these allow for speed and thus a short Time-to-Market on the one hand. On the other hand, and in conjunction with Customer Experience, it is possible to continuously incorporate customer feedback into product development.
The example shown illustrates that within a few days a system prototype can be explored not only in software but also in hardware. This allows the various stakeholders to evaluate the basic feasibility and estimate future development budgets for series production readiness.

We would be happy to clarify specifically what this means for you and your product development project in a personal meeting. Simply write to us using the contact form below.

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