4 Prototyping Skills to Practice at Home During the Pandemic

Product Development

To stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are at home more and have found themselves with extra time on their hands. If you’re an inventor or have the urge to invent, now’s the opportunity to hone your skills and develop a worthwhile product. Enventys Partners explains four areas of prototyping expertise that will help you in your product development journeys.

Easy Product Development Exercises

With six months into the global pandemic, it’s clear that life as we knew it won’t be coming back anytime soon. While the future remains uncertain, the silver lining is that times of change breed innovation. Since we’re not limited by our commutes or our 9-to-5 desks these days, newfound flexibility and time can be used to hone our crafts and hobbies. If you’re an inventor or wish to be one, now’s the chance to add new skills to your prototyping toolbox in the following four areas.

1. Ideation

We’ve all heard the classic inventor fable: ideas strike like lightning bolts. Yes, ideas do appear randomly in daily life, like in a dream or the shower, but it’s not the only way you can get those eureka moments. Taking the initiative and actively searching for ideas yourself can provide the lightbulb just as well, if not better.

The process of coming up with concepts, often called ideation, is a skill that can be cultivated and improved. One of my favorite techniques to exercise the “idea muscle” is to write down ten ideas a day. I first heard about this method from podcaster and blogger, James Altucher, and it’s helped me get better at coming up with ideas on the spot. It’s simple to do, as each day you just have to log ten (or more) ideas in a notebook, and they don’t all have to be product ideas. Feel free to jot down things like books you want to read or places you want to visit.

Don’t worry if it’s hard—it may take 15-20 minutes to get your first set. However, after a few weeks, you’ll be amazed at how your mind automatically shifts to looking for opportunities. You might even extract a great new product idea this way.

Sketch Ideation

My daughter, Ivy, works on her 10 ideas a day in sketch form.

2. Sketching

Sketching is a crucial aspect of product design, yet few people are comfortable with this skill. Since it’s so valuable for the development process, even a rough sketch of a concept can adequately clarify the details in ways that words often fail. Sketching is also a speedy way to iterate through ideas, as the hand can draw concepts much faster than they can be rendered in CAD or prototyped.

The key to getting better at sketching is to mix proper technique with repetition. Make sure you always have a writing utensil and paper handy at your workspaces so you’re ready to draw when the moment strikes. Carve out 5-10 minutes a day to practice, or even do some sketching while you’re on a work-at-home conference call. Tracing, while it may seem like cheating, can be a great way to train your hand. Don’t be afraid to print out images of patent drawings or other things you like and trace them.

If you want to learn sketching techniques, there are great tutorials on YouTube. I recommend Anton Ruckman’s channel since he has lessons specifically for product designers, including a 7-part video series for beginners.

4 Prototyping Skills to Practice at Home During the Pandemic

These early sketches of my innovation, the Dadsak, are very crude but ended up forming the basis for its patent filing.

3. Sewing

If the pandemic can be characterized by one product, it is the mask. Once masks became mandated in many states, people didn’t settle for just the standard surgical varieties. They started making their own with fabric patterns of superheroes or their favorite sports teams, thus, bringing the craft of sewing back to prominence.

Sewing is also a great skill for prototypers since many products have a soft goods element. To prototype with any fidelity, it’s handy to know at least some sewing basics. Hand stitching is a useful skill for small and simple projects—all you need is just a needle and thread.

Before using a powered sewing machine, try a handheld version as they are inexpensive and give you the power to sew long areas. While handheld sewing machines can be clumsy to set up and use, they are convenient for sewing places that would be timeconsuming by hand.

Once you have mastered the handheld, it’s time to go pro with a proper sewing machine. Sewing machines give you more flexibility and greater control with the foot pedal. Fortunately, if you don’t know how to use one, there are plenty of online tutorials that can get you started.

Using a handheld sewing machine

Vanel March uses a handheld sewing machine to build prototypes of the Dadsak during Startup Bus 2018.

4. Painting

While it’s an often overlooked prototyping skill, painting provides a finished look to a product. In production, parts can be molded in specific colors or given a paint finish or other coating, but, in prototyping, we often use 3D printed parts that are a clear, white, or neutral shade with ugly build lines. For a prototype to look its best for photography or filming, it often needs a great paint job so it looks like a manufactured product. Fortunately, great painting can be done at home, even if you don’t have a garage or paint booth.

Painting starts with preparation and that means sanding. If you are painting a 3D printed part, you’ve got to remove the build lines. Start with 100 -150 grit sandpaper, then move progressively through to finer grits, finishing at around 400. Next, you should lay down a coat of primer which seals the surface, fills small cracks and gives the part a uniform neutral base color. Just make sure to use protective gear like face masks and rubber gloves when spraying, and always spray outside or in a ventilated area. When the primer is dry, 400-600 grit sandpaper will smooth out the imperfections. If you break through the primer, recoat to get a smooth finish before moving on to the color.

It’s a great idea to use spray cans since they apply color efficiently. Professional paint lines, like Montana, offer a lot of color varieties and can be found at home improvement stores, art supply stores or online shops. It’s prudent to test the paint on a scrap part or the back of a plastic spoon to make sure it’s compatible with the primer and is the color you want. Once the color is dry, add a clear coat to seal it and to give it a protective layer. Just be sure to use a clear coat that is the same brand and system as the color coat. This ensures that the color layer doesn’t react in a bad way and cause spider webbing.

Airbrush practice

My daughter, Harper, practices painting with an airbrush on a model car.

Practice Makes Perfect

Do you have the time and desire to invent? Start practicing even if you don’t have a clear idea for a product. Ideation, sketching, sewing and painting are all easy and cheap ways to get better at prototyping. But if you need a little more help, feel free to reach out to Enventys Partners, a team of expert designers and engineers that make ideas into reality.


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