What is a prototype?
A prototype is a draft version of your product or design; in other words, you’re building a physical representation of your product or idea, or you’re creating a simulation of the experience your potential customers might have if they go to your store or hire your services. It also can refer to a basic website that you may be building for your business. You’re basically building a mock-up version of your brand.
Why is a prototype important?
Building a prototype allows you to test your ideas or customer experience cheaply or for free, before you create real products or a full website. It helps you explore your ideas and show the purpose of a feature, product, or your overall concept to potential customers before you invest time and money in development.
It helps you get feedback from potential customers while you’re still in the planning and designing stages. You can figure out if people are actually able to use your product or service in the way you want or need them to, and you can find and fix any potential issues before you launch your business. Seeing how potential customers interact with your prototype can help you improve your business and your brand.
What does a prototype look like?
A prototype can be anything from basic paper drawings or sketches (known as low-fidelity prototypes), to a website that allows the click-through of a few pieces of content, or a fully functioning version of your product (high-fidelity prototypes).
We’re focusing on low-fi prototyping because
- It’s faster and cheaper to build
- It doesn’t require special skills
- Hi-fi prototypes tend to get people stuck on a particular way of doing something (because you feel you’ve already invested a lot of time and money, so it’s not worth changing the prototype).
It’s a lot cheaper to change a product, service, or website early in the development process than to make a change after you’ve fully developed it. So, it’s best to build your prototypes as early as possible in your business process.
How do you prototype?
From the ideal customer experience that you’ve created in Lesson 5: Exploring New Possibilities, pick a main element that is absolutely essential to the success of your business (e.g., new product, packaging, marketing materials, website, office space, buildings, etc.).
Build rough mock-ups of the element you’ve chosen. For example, if your service is based online, then sketch out what you think your website should look like. If you’re selling packaged goods, then draw an example of what your product packaging will look like. June would likely do a mock-up of her website, because that’s what she’ll be using to “sell” her business, whereas Adnan would create a prototype of his honey packaging or what his stall at a farmer’s market might look like.
Don’t spend a lot of time trying to make your mock-ups perfect. You are not trying to create or test the final look or feel of your product or idea. Instead, focus on thinking through how your product/service works and how your experience flows in the context of your customers’ lives.
It can sometimes be helpful to do what’s called A/B testing. What this means is you create two different versions of your prototype and ask users to test each version and give you feedback. This way, you can see which option works best. Just remember, though, that when it comes to prototyping, the more work you do, the less open to feedback you’ll be!
Take a look at these examples to get an idea of what low-fi prototypes look like: