Over the last few months I have been writing articles for this column after talking to experts about issues that are
important to “inventors”. However, this series is not just about getting a sneak peekinto the invention process; I really
hope it will spark the creative genius in you. Have you ever seen a product on the shelf and said “I thought of that years
ago, and look here it is!” or “What a great idea, so simple, why didn’t I think of that.” Sometimes it is not about being a
creative person, but in having a bit of know how to act on an idea and see if it’s possible.
I hear from so many people about ideas they have for products but do not know how to get it started. One of the best
places to start with any concept, thought or idea is to sketch it out (artistic skills not required) or build a quick and easy
prototype from everyday objects. As an expert on inventors, I tell people before you spend money on fancy prototypes
or any kind of marketing, first validate your idea by creating a simple concept prototype and get feedback from a select
group of potential customers (not just friends and family.) Since I’m not the expert on prototypes, I sat down with Ray
Klein an independent product developer, at a local hot spot for entrepreneurs, The Woods Coffee, to talk about creating
these kinds of simple prototypes.
We started our conversation around the process of design thinking. Ray explains, “It’s about looking at the big
picture. What do you want to create? Look at all the possibilities without limiting your imagination. Then
simplify the idea and figure out what you need to create it.” This process can be difficult for individuals, especially
when they do not know enough about the potential customer for that product. Asking friends and family to help you
brainstorm early on can help you see something you may have missed.
Once the brainstorming is done we move on to the fun part, prototyping. This is where your ingenuity and creativity
really come into play, figuring out which common objects you can manipulate, morph and change to make your idea
real. Ray sees it as the next step in a natural process, “Prototyping is going from that 2D idea to a 3D object. It’s
about getting that idea out of your head into the shop or onto the kitchen table, wherever you can, to start
creating that product.”
Being an inventor myself, I remember the first time I worked that paperclip in my hand into a new shape and knew it
was the start of something. Ray nods his head in agreement, “The materials used for this part of the process don’t need
to be what it will ultimately be made from, use any everyday object. It’s all about learning and NOT doing it right the
first time – you can learn a lot from failure.”
As with anything new, it is all about taking the first step. Ray had some great advice for getting started. “Look at things
you have around the house that can help get your idea out there modify and piece them together into a
representation. Next, go shopping. I personally like walking the aisles at Hardware Sales looking for materials.
Take pictures that capture elements of what you want to create. Searching the internet or retailers for existing
products can help you find an aesthetic you like. Finally, start crafting something that works. You don’t have to
be handy you can use wood, paper, foam or fabric from a store like JoAnn’s and rough out the size, shape and
function of what you want.”
For all the idea people out there, the important thing to remember is that it is not about making something perfect. It is
about having some fun and creating something that allows others to visualize what your idea is and what it will do.
Once you’ve crafted something new (no matter how simple it is) you are on your way to becoming a true inventor, with
lots of fancy –cool prototypes ahead.
*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.