Jump to main content

Development Work

Key Info

What is Development Work?

Development Work

Development involves the refinement and improvement of a solution.

Some development work might be needed very early in the design process in order to evaluate different potential solutions. For example, it might not be possible to compare the cost of early design concepts without doing some development work to estimate what the cost of an alternative would actually be.

Development work continues throughout the design process, often even after a product ships to customers.

Goals of Development Work

Make It Work!

Of course, the primary goal of development work is to make a workable solution to your problem. This goal is true of all development efforts.

Risk Reduction

In any complicated development effort, for example, building a robot for a competition, you will be uncertain about how well certain elements of your design solution will work. In a situation like this, it is very important to eliminate the uncertainty as soon as possible. This is called risk reduction. The longer you wait to eliminate the risk, the more likely that you will waste time on a solution that will fail. It is much better to find out that a potential solution will not work early in the design process before choosing your final solution for development. Fail fast, fail early!

To do risk reduction, use an appropriate method of development. For example, one strategy is to prototype just a small part of the potential solution, the risky part, to make sure that it will work.


Almost any design problem has multiple requirements. In many cases, requirements might conflict with each other, at least somewhat. For example, if you try to maximize almost any characteristic of a solution (speed, appearance, etc.), the cost will go up. Optimization is the process of finding the best trade-off between your different requirements, and it is an important part of almost every development effort.

Methods of Development

Methods of Development


Designers use drawings to record ideas so that they are not forgotten, to communicate ideas to others, and to study how different parts of a design work together during development.

There are several types of drawings. Sketches are rough freehand drawings done very quickly and usually showing just the outlines of an object. Pictorial drawings portray a photo-like view of objects. Technical drawing is an accurate way of drawing that shows an object's true size and shape. It is often done with CAD (computer-aided design) software and is used in plans and blueprints that show how to construct an object. Technical drawings show in detail how the pieces of something relate to each other.

The founder of Science Buddies tells a story of how he learned the value of drawing something before building it:

Being extremely impatient, I hated to draw plans before I started building—it took too much time! My dad was an excellent draftsman and he always drew a sketch before building anything. He tried to teach me to do the same, but instead I liked to just visualize everything in my head, then hammer away. As the things I built became more and more complex, the lack of adequate plans became troublesome. I remember when I first tried a telescope mount I was building. As I swung it around the polar axis, it clanged into another part of the mount and I had to rebuild it so I could look at the whole sky. Eventually, I learned what my father had been trying to teach me: it's important to have a plan. (Hess 2001, p. 3)

Learn more about drawing.


Models can be physical objects, such as a scale model of a solution that shows all the parts in correct proportion to each other. Generally, scale models do not actually work. Designers use them to visualize the solution and see how it looks.

A completely different kind of model is a mathematical or computer model. Designers use these models to predict how a solution will work. For complex problems, this can be extremely valuable, because the computer model is often much less expensive than building the solution itself, and it can assist the designer in making trade-offs among different requirements.


A prototype is an operating version of a solution. Often a designer makes a prototype with different materials than the final version, and generally it is not as polished. Prototypes are a key step in the development of a final solution, allowing the designer to test how the solution will work and even show the solution to users for feedback.

Occasionally, designers will prototype pieces of the final solution very early in the design process. Sometimes designers will make several prototypes during the development of a solution.

Learn more about prototypes.


Storyboards are a series of graphic illustrations or images for the purpose of visualizing a video, website, software program, environment, user experience (like a theme park ride), or the like. Storyboards show how the solution appears as the user interacts with it over time, highlighting any problems in the flow of the experience.

Learn more about storyboards.

Analysis, Running the Numbers

Sometimes development work can be as simple as adding up the weight of all the components of a solution to see if the total weight meets the requirements. Similarly, you might add up the cost of all the parts to get a total cost or predict the speed of a vehicle by looking at the power of the engine. Analysis of this type is an important part of the development of many solutions, and it is often called running the numbers.

Hess, Kenneth L. Bootstrap: Lessons Learned Building a Successful Company from Scratch. Carmel, California: S-Curve Press, 2001.

Free science fair projects.