What Is Prototyping? (Types, Benefits, Tips And Examples)
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Prototyping is an essential step in the product development process because it lets designers create a working model, or prototype, to estimate its feasibility and value. Using prototyping, you can convert an idea into a concept and present it to your audience or stakeholders. If you are a UI or UX designer, understanding the various types of prototypes can help you decide which one you can use to present your ideas and new designs. In this article, we answer 'What is prototyping?', explore its importance, understand some prototyping examples and discover tips for choosing and creating a working model.
What is prototyping?
The answer to the question, 'What is prototyping?' is that it is the process of developing a new product by physically representing an idea to the target audience. Companies focus on creating a mock-up or working model to understand whether the product can solve a customer's problem. The mock-up of the product is the prototype that you can test with prospective customers. This process allows designers to test the viability of the current design and helps them understand how users perceive their product.
Usually, companies use a prototype during the design phase, but they can also use this process to test designs throughout all production stages. For example, a design engineer might present a product prototype to the stakeholders before it goes into the manufacturing stage to pitch their idea. Prototypes can take any form, from storyboards and sketches to rough paper prototypes and wireframes. Regardless of the type of working model you use, you use it to validate the design of an actual product.
Types of prototyping
Here are two different types of prototyping:
The objective of low-fidelity prototyping is checking and testing functionality rather than the visual appearance of a product. It is a quick and easy way to translate high-level design concepts into a tangible item that represents a future product. Though this process provides a quick product overview, it does not allow testing by the user.
High-fidelity prototyping appears and functions similar to an actual product. A product team can create a high-fidelity working model when the designer knows what they plan to build. This prototype covers the product's user interface (UI) in terms of aesthetics, visuals and user experiences (UX). It also includes interactions, behaviour and user flow.
What are the benefits of prototyping?
Here are a few benefits of prototyping:
Evaluating technical feasibility: Creating a working model gives you the power to assess an idea and product features that might pose difficulties during implementation. Prototyping can help you determine unprecedented technical or physical constraints.
Presenting ideas to customers: Before the actual launch of your products, you can present working models of a future product to your customers. Also, it becomes easier to devise your marketing strategies because you already have a working model.
Allowing iterations at lower cost: When a customer provides feedback after using a prototype, you can make changes until you meet the customer's requirement. Changing a product in manufacturing is costly compared to making alterations in a prototype.
Providing focused feedback: Providing a prototype to customers can help companies get focused feedback on the product's desired qualities. This helps a business understand the customer's needs, requirements and expectations.
Simulating the future products: A prototype can help you simulate the future products. Also, with a prototype, companies can discover flaws in their design and create products that attract potential investors.
9 prototyping examples
Here are some widely used prototyping examples:
Diagrams and sketches
Diagrams and sketches are the most basic forms of prototyping because they require minimal effort and don't require artistic drawing or sketching skills. Start by using sketches to conceptualise and build a new product. Using paper, you can draw the product's interface and even the front-end design of an application or product. This paper prototype is ideal for conceptualising and designing a new product or application.
Storyboards are an excellent way of telling stories and guiding customers through a seamless user experience. It is an iterative and interactive design method that uses a series of drawings, sketches and pictures to show the solution to a user's problem. Drawing a user's experience can help you understand their problems. Also, a designer uses a storyboard during the initial prototyping stage to collect feedback during the early design process.
3D printing or rapid models
3D printing and rapid models can allow a designer to create a working and realistic model of a product using printing machines and computers. This prototype allows a business to move from the design to production phase quicker because they can use 3D models to identify errors and areas requiring adjustments. Also, you can change a 3D printed model digitally within a few minutes.
Wireframes work as the digital layout or diagram of a product. You can use a wireframe to create prototypes of websites, digital tools and software. A wireframe is a flowchart of a software or website that shows all the software applications or website pages and how they interconnect. It gives developers and designers a general idea of what a website looks like and helps you understand the core functionalities. From copywriters to developers, anyone can use a wireframe to navigate the structure and placement of different content.
A designer or a business might add a feasibility working model to test specific features that you add later in the product development phase. After creating an initial prototype, a designer can augment design changes. You can use this prototype for both physical and digital models. When designers want to add an essential product or website feature, they use this prototype to test and adopt a new idea.
A business uses a video prototype to present a product in animated videos or graphic simulations that explain the concept of a project. Video prototyping can show new and speculative designs, ideas and products to potential customers. Showing a video gives you an idea about how your customers might perceive a concept that you may find difficult to prototype with limited resources.
A role-playing or experiential prototype is a simulation technique that helps in elevating the user experience of a product or service. Certain designs can benefit from visualisation techniques like virtual or augmented reality. For instance, when testing the initial design of a circus or new theme park, you can walk the users through the park using virtual and augmented reality.
Companies use a horizontal prototype to understand the human interface of a project. This prototype displays windows, menus and screens on a computer to understand how users interact with a product or website. A horizontal prototype displays the product's user interface and provides a broader view of the entire product.
A vertical prototype is another type of technical prototype that adds details about the functions of a particular business process. Vertical prototypes expand on certain elements of a horizontal prototype and explain the inner workings of sub-systems within the overall interface. Companies use the vertical prototype in the later design stages to elaborate on specific features or functions of a product or website. Also, a vertical prototype tests essential functions of a software or application before it moves to another design process.
Tips for creating and using prototypes
Here are a few tips for creating and using a prototype:
Know the prototyping conditions: When developing a prototype, it is essential to know how a model might work outside of the testing conditions in a controlled environment.
Change potential design flaws: While creating a prototype, focus on rectifying errors and moving back to an earlier design if you encounter a design flaw. You can either change the existing one or create a new prototype free from issues.
Ensure design safety: Prototypes are an excellent way for ensuring the safety of a design. For digital products, it might mean protecting customers and the business against hackers and cybercriminals.
Build the prototype with your team: Focus on involving your team members from the beginning. Your team members can spot different areas of improvement and work together to find a solution.
Focus on user flow and scenarios: When crafting a prototype, it's important to emphasise usability and consider the main purpose of the product. Create a working model that shows the key idea behind the design.
Prototype what you need: Avoid building a perfect working model because it might postpone the development of the actual product. So, focus on creating a prototype of what is necessary and what you require.
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