March 12, 2022

Who is Lonnie Johnson? 

Lonnie Johnson is the creator of the Super Soaker and the biggest innovator of the water gun since its invention. This story is not about how Lonnie Johnson was a black man who worked at NASA as an aerospace engineer in the  70s or was an amazing entrepreneur that delivered an amazing product that shaped the childhood of kids around the world. This is about prototyping and exactly how Lonnie Johnson revolutionized the water gun.Lonnie built a water gun for his niece which served as a prototype for him to pitch a toy company.

What makes a prototype?

A prototype is considered by most to be an example of a workable solution. Often times the term prototype is synonymous with objectivity and the scientific method however it is much more. Check out our article on prototyping as an emotional endeavor to learn more about how prototyping is about empathy and storytelling. The ultimate goal of a prototype is to communicate a solution quickly and with little resources as possible. If we think about the first water pistol and what came after you see that a big problem was between play kids would constantly take trips to the water faucet to fill up the toy. Lonnie's design for his niece stored the sater in a bigger tank and used a pump system to bring that water through the longer tube.

How do you make a prototype?

While Lonnie's prototype is pretty high fidelity it was still made with very cheap materials. Some pvc pipe, a 2 liter soda bottle, and a bit of tubing. In fact the value add of a prototype is that it is a well communicated example of a product or service without spending a full budget. Now this same idea could have been communicated by a simple sketch or a verbal story and those could have served as a prototype. Some prototypes need to be low fidelity and some, like Lonnie's water gun need to be high fidelity but to sum it up high fidelity prototypes cover form and function and lower fidelity prototypes focus mostly on function or communicating the function. We will be dropping a post soon on fidelity in prototyping. The point of this post is that with this prototype Lonnie was able to get the toy company to immerse themselves in the possibility of his water gun design. If you are a child of the 80's you have a fondness for the Super Soaker that will never be matched. So, peace to the King; Lonnie Johnson.

Lonnie Johnson's Prototype

Lonnie Johnson holding early plans and an early build of a Super Soaker

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