Key Info

  • A prototype is an operating version of a solution. It is often made with different materials (cheaper and easier to work with) than the final version.
  • Prototypes allow you to test how your solution will work and even show the solution to users for feedback.
  • Creating prototypes may involve using readily available materials, construction kits, storyboards, or other techniques that help you to create your solution quickly and with little cost. Keep in mind that these are mockups of your final solution, not the real thing!


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.

Prototypes can help you to develop the structure, function, and appearance of your solution.

Prototyping Physical Structures, Objects, and Mechanical Designs

Readily Available Materials

Cardboard, paper, poster board, mat board, and Foam-coreTM are excellent modeling materials for prototypes. You can cut them easily with the proper knife, and you can assemble them with a variety of tapes and glues. You can find these materials at an art supply store. Plastic sheet and wood are also good modeling materials.

Found objects like plastic bottles, straws, aluminum cans, and other things lying around the house can often fill a need in your prototyping.

Construction Kits

There are a number of construction kits that are excellent for prototyping. Don't think of these as kids' toys; even professional engineers use them for prototyping simple devices!

  • LegoTM, Lego MindstormsTM, and Lego TechnicTM. Pieces are easy to assemble, but also come apart easily.
  • FishertechnikTM. This system is more sophisticated than Lego, and it is less likely to fall apart.
  • MeccanoTM. Meccano has been around a very long time. Parts are metal, not plastic, and they are bolted together.

Prototyping Electrical and Electronic Devices

Solderless breadboards are ideal for prototyping simple electrical circuits. You can learn how to use a breadboard in the Science Buddies reference How to Use a Breadboard.

You can also purchase commercial prototyping boards and development systems that can be quite sophisticated.

Prototyping Experiences and Environments

Storyboards are useful for prototyping experiences (like a theme park ride or an interactive museum exhibit).

Free science fair projects.