Client-centred design evolution via functional prototyping

The product design process involves communication of potential design solutions to customers. Fully functional prototypes are most suitable for this because they are readily accepted and allow simultaneous evaluation of all design criteria. However, they are often seen as expensive, time-consuming and not fully representative of the final product material. Therefore, they are usually reserved for customer validation of the final design rather than to keep them involved in every product evolution iteration. This research proposes that rapid prototypes should be used to facilitate a method referred to as Customer Interaction through Functional Prototypes (CIFP). An action research methodology was employed to test the efficacy of applying this method to a real-world product design brief. Customers were able to fully evaluate the aesthetic, ergonomic and functional parameters of the product during every design iteration. This resulted in accelerated product development, sensitivity to the client's needs, a new dimension of 'natural' communication and a successful product design.