What is a prototype?

A prototype is a draft version of a product, service or space. It allows you to explore your ideas and show the intention behind a feature of your concept or the overall concept. A prototype can be quick and rough (low fidelity) or detailed in their shape and functions (high fidelity). A prototype can be anything from a drawing to a highly functional model of your concept.

The defines the prototyping process as “getting ideas and explorations out of your head and into the physical world. A prototype can be anything that takes a physical form – be it a wall of post-it notes, a role-playing activity, a space, an object, an interface, or even a storyboard.”

Why prototyping ?

Prototyping allows you to try out your ideas without the pressure of getting everything right straight away!. Prototyping at different stages of your creative process will allow you to:

  • Explore problems, ideas, and opportunities within a specific area of focus and test out the impact of small or radical changes in your concept.
  • Better understand what makes your concept work or fail.
  • Engage with end users or stakeholders in order to test your concept in ways that reveal deeper insight and more valuable experiences.
  • Explain new ideas, motivate or inspire your stakeholders and investors towards new ways of thinking and doing. (Dam & Siang, 2019)

Types of prototyping

The agency nod-A identifies three big groups of prototyping based on their purpose fiche-choisir_son_protorevu.pdf

Shape prototypes: early in the creative process and with little resources, they will allow you to better understand the value of your ideas and to communicate them to the stakeholders of your project.

Usage prototypes: when your ideas have a more defined shape, usage prototypes will allow you to test a particular function, use or technology of your concept or idea. They allow you to convey experiences and particular forms of interactions with your project. They are normally thought to be tested/experienced/manipulated by users.

Beta prototypes: at a more advanced stage of your idea development and after a first usage prototype, you can test and communicate the overall concept at different scales and dimensions: user experience, technological aspects, business model…

The prototyping process

The prototyping process starts from the very moment in which you decide to let your ideas out. It is very important that you make the right choice of the aspect of your idea that you want to prototype and how you want to prototype it. But do not spend too much time planning for it, Start and improve it as it goes…

Here some tips from Nasta & Thinkpublic and Penny Hagan, who have identified the different stages when developing a service prototype. Hagan proposes a great grid to reflect on the purpose of your prototype steps_to_developing_penny_hagan.pdf:

1. Choosing what to prototype: Focus on prototyping the bits of your idea that are most important to learn about at the given time.

  • What do you want to learn through prototyping?
  • What questions need to be answered?
  • What assumptions in your idea need to be tested?
  • What aspects need further thinking and exploration?
  • What needs to be communicated in order to enable feedback from users and stakeholders?

2. Choosing how to prototype:

Different methods can help you explore, understand and test different things.

Visual methods can help you to communicate ideas, stories and possible outcomes. Tangible prototypes and role play bamethodshods can help you to convey a experiences or forms of interaction core to your project.

3. Evaluating your prototype

Prototyping is successful when its aims and purposes are clear for you. Before using your prototype for communicating or testing your idea, think and list what you want to understand through the prototyping process. How are you going to get feedback on these different elements you want to test?

What to keep in mind when prototyping for testing

The suggests some useful tips for prototyping for testing:

  • Start building: Even if you aren’t sure what you’re doing, the act of picking up some materials (paper, tape, and found objects are a good way to start!) will be enough to get you going.
  • Don’t spend too long on one prototype: Move on before you find yourself getting too emotionally attached to anyone prototype.
  • Build with the user in mind: What do you hope to test with the user? What sorts of behaviour do you expect? Answering these questions will help focus your prototyping and help you receive meaningful feedback in the testing phase.
  • Identify a variable: Identity what’s being tested with each prototype. A prototype should answer a particular question when tested.