The definition of a prototype is a preliminary model of a functioning product that you interact with daily. Like Netflix, the glasses you’re wearing and the bike you’re riding.
You create a prototype to test the experience of the product before it was launched. A prototype takes you as close to the final product as possible, without spending too many resources on it.
I think this would not do it justice though, so let’s dig a little deeper,
Prototypes help you to test the:
A – Desirability of a business idea
B – Usability of a product experience.
Let’s break them down.
Prototypes let you do grand things like testing value propositions of a business model, desirability of a product experience, exploring customer segments and channels. To be put simply, a prototype allows you to test if your idea is THE BIG IDEA you’ve been dreaming of before committing your money and time to it.
I have never been a big fan of technical terms, so, to start with definition A and bring it closer to you, I would like to do it with a simple example of what a prototype can do for you.
For every successful story, there are 1000s that failed tremendously. Think about yourself. How many of all the products you own do you actually love? Just a few, am I right?
It is the same for business ideas. There are a few out there that passionate customers would go on raving about how much they love them. And then there are the ones you’ve never heard of.
Now for the million-dollar question: how do you know if consumers will actually value and want your product ideas?
You may answer: I should probably build and launch it. Market it and get the words across and track the sales.
Our answer: If that’s what you’re thinking, you should definitely not do it.
This is where a prototype comes into play. A prototype in definition A is what I like to call ‘fake it before you make it’. You will build a version (like a simple landing page) to test the desirability of the product experience or gauge the “stickiness” of the value propositions of your business model.
So if internally your team is thinking about introducing a new insurance plan for construction workers. Instead of spending millions to get the business going, you can start easily with a simple landing page and pour in a 1000$ to see how much traction you get in the market.
If the targeted consumer segment does not show interest in your prototype, toss it, period.
To launch a product, you need to test:
1. The desirability of the value propositions of a business model through fake door testing (landing pages mostly)
2. The desirability of a product experience (low-fidelity clickable prototypes)
3. The usability of the interface (high-fidelity prototypes)
Before testing the usability of your product experience you should already have validated your business idea (1) and product experience (2). Use Case A shows you the direction while B is all about fine-tuning.
You know there is interest out there for your product, now you need to find out about the details and make it as usable as possible.
To do so the most common technique is user testing sessions. Users from a certain target group you chose will be asked to interact with the prototype of your product.
What you will get out is: Further validation of the interface design, the frictions to fix, unnecessary features to skip, or hidden user behaviors to address (that you didn’t think of before).
Of course, you would think your product has everything that’s needed for any user. But YOU ARE NOT THE USER. That’s why it is so vital to test it.
As for prototypes, there are 3 different stages:
Your prototype can be as easy as sketching out raw ideas on paper. No need to add details like final text or images yet, it is mainly meant to highlight the core structure, navigation, and high-level functionality of your product. If you are not a fan of paper and pen you could easily use online tools like Balsamiq.
This is a great way to discuss the core concept of your business idea or product experience.
Right in the middle, we have the – you guessed it – mid-fidelity prototypes. These are usually digitized, contain more details than lo-fi but there is still no need to go into details such as color.
Anyone looking at your mid-fidelity can tell it’s fake and not real. Mid-fidelity is the stepping stone to design (mimic) a full experience. Both for the desirability test of your business idea and usability test of your product interface you need to first create the mid-fidelity of your prototypes.
A high-fidelity version is what we have been talking about in the article above, very detailed in terms of look, feel, and functionality. Basically, a production-ready version of your product.
A high-fidelity version can be a landing page or product interface. You can use it to get an authentic reaction from your target customers. If you show a mid-fidelity prototype to your target customers, the feedback you get is not authentic hence has low validation.
The more complete and high-fidelity your prototypes are, the more reliable the authenticity of the feedback.
I hope this article helps you gain clarity on the definition of a prototype and why prototyping is a key component to develop products in today’s world and how you can use it.
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