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Prototyping at Gunpoint, Part 1: Setting Yourself Up for Success

Posted by Dave Sherman on Thursday, June 2nd, 2016 | No Comments »

A few years ago, I was interviewing a recent college grad for a position as a Developer. The interview was hum-drum, so I asked the usual “Describe your worst work day ever …and what you learned from that,” as a way to try to get a little more insight into the candidate. As his worst day at work ever, he described a summer job working at a donut shop and getting robbed at gunpoint. “He pointed the gun at me and it was scary and it all happened so fast. I forgot to press the alarm and I couldn’t remember a thing about the robber — what he was wearing or what he looked like — so I wasn’t any help to the police in finding the guy.”

Wow! Now that’s a bad day at work! I can’t imagine getting held up at gunpoint.

"That’s the way this job is, Bledsoe, interminable periods of boredom, followed by brief moments of intense excitement."

“That’s the way this job is, Bledsoe, interminable periods of boredom, followed by brief moments of intense excitement.”

I asked what he learned from that bad day? “Well, the second time I was held up, I didn’t panic. I pressed the alarm and made sure to really get a good look at the guy. I was able to describe him accurately, what he was wearing and driving, and the cops caught him right away.”

While I hope it’s pretty rare for an athletic apparel developer to be robbed at gunpoint on the job – twice, even! – there certainly can be high pressure moments that we put ourselves in or that are put on us by tight design cycles, etc., that can make it feel like we’re developing at gunpoint. In Part 1 of this blog I’ll suggest some ways to set yourself up for success when prototyping. Part 2 will be more about how to do the actual prototyping.

  • Prototyping Saves Time. Skipping the prototyping stage of development will not end up saving you time or money. In particular, prototyping in the design of protective apparel helps one to be sure that the right sizing, flexibility with the body, weight, and protection are captured in a design. Making revisions after tooling has been cut takes much longer than prototyping and can be quite expensive. A day of prototype work can easily save a couple weeks and $10k if retooling is necessary.
  • Prototype as Early as Possible. Line drawings and even 3D renderings do not provide a good feel for how protective apparel will feel while being worn. Some of the best designs I’ve seen start with prototyping, and only move on to drawings later. At least start the prototyping and drawing at the same time. When it comes to drawing the part, start with sketches of the protection on the body. If it’s a knee pad, sketch the apparel on the knee, both bent and straight.
  • Expect Failure. If you expect your first prototype to be perfect, you’re not trying hard enough. We have a saying, “Sixth time is the charm.” I always try to make the first prototype perfect, but I’m not concerned when it isn’t. Fail fast and move on to the next iteration. Ford’s first mass production car, the Model T, wasn’t his first prototype, it was his 20th! (A=1, B=2, C=3…)


  • Break Up the Job. Any big task can be broken into smaller tasks that seem less daunting. So a molded XRD® knee pad prototype could be broken up into obtaining the right size and shape for a knee, adding pods on the top to give protection without losing flexibility, and attaching to a garment. They are distinct tasks that can be taken in order and they will simplify the job. You wouldn’t want to make a shape, add pods and attach them to a garment, only to decide the shape is wrong…
  • Break Up the Time. Rather than plan one long session to do the prototyping, plan lots of small time slots. That allows time for your mind to be working over the design in-between times that it’s working on putting it together. Breaking it up also allows times for gluing or curing that may be needed. By way of example, here’s a recent prototype project that involved perfecting a thermoformed insert, then determining the size of the foam to cover it, and then assembling them.


  • Make Several at the Same Time. As you are completing one phase of a design, say the basic shape of the knee protection, make several of the best part. Then when you move on to the next stage, adding pods, you’ll have extras to make podding mistakes with. Make yourself paper patterns and label them along the way to make it easier to repeat your successes.

So what happened to our Developer interviewee who learned to plan for being help up at gunpoint? Well, we hired him, and he’s quickly become one of our best Developers ever. One reason is that he’s not afraid of making mistakes and learning from them. He embodies the notion that stopping after the first try doesn’t bring success. What brings success is moving onto the next iteration as quickly as possible.

NEXT UP: Tips for building prototypes quickly and effectively.

Dave Sherman

Dave Sherman

Technical Design Solutions Manager at XRD® Impact Institute
Dave Sherman is the Innovation Leader at the XRD® Impact Institute - the research, design and testing facility of XRD® Impact Protection Technology. His experience involves a wide variety of foams including polyethlyene, polypropylene, EVA, rubber, polyurethane, silicone, and melamine. He has a Chemical Engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from RPI, as well as over 30 years of experience in the business of developing material solutions to meet demanding customer needs.

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