Prototyping is a development method in which a prototype (an early approximation or a “best guess” of the final system or product) is built, tested, evaluated and then reworked as necessary until an acceptable prototype is finally achieved from which the sellable system or product can be developed. Prototyping is important part of the StartUp Experience, since usually all the customer/user requirements are not known. Letting potential users to test the product will give you valuable information about the characteristics and functions the customers need and use. Prototyping is an iterative, trial-and-error process that takes place between the developers and the users.
Prototype can be part of company process as the prototype is tested with real customers.
While doing a proto, keep in mind “how the functionality is seen by the user?”, not how it actually functions. When customer orders something, he usually don’t care how difficult/hard/expensive/labour intensive etc it is to deliver the final product. Try to build something that looks real and works like the final end-product for the customer.
During the dot com -boom there were plenty of examples for companies building the product before asking the customers. You can find the biggest flops here.
Reason for the prototype
You need to have a clear goal on WHY you are creating a prototype and what do you want to learn from it . Design your prototype in a way that it answers those questions.
Possible reasons and types for building a proto can be:
- Testing the customers use on some functions (functional)
- Testing the color/shape/form of a product (visual)
- Testing the customers perception for the concept (visual, semi-functional)
- Proofing that it can be done
Can it be done? Proof of concept
World is full of ”can’t be done” -innovations if someone can figure out how to do it. With the proof of concept you can give prove to potential customer (or investor) that product or service can actually be built by you). Also some functional testing can be done. Product may not look pretty or polished at this point of time
Proof of consept product varies by the purpose for example
- You can create a rudimentary demo product that performs certain functions.
- You can test out the service consept for selected clients that request some limited functionality.
Mock up –proto (Visual prototype)
It can be useful to create a visual prototype of the product idea. This can be for example graphical (3d) visualization, series or images (in case of application functionality) or hand made concrete product that allows users to try it out in real life. Mock up clarifies the idea and allows test group to visually evaluate the product.
Tip: For online mock Up’s you can use Mockflow free tool for bacis Mock Ups: http://mockflow.com
If your product is simple and you have clear goal how it will be used and what characteristics are needed you can well test the demand on functional prototype amongst the customers. Examples can be simple innovations like tangleteezer (http://www.tangleteezer.com) or service that can be performed manually in the back office. This allows the customer to interact with the product and give a realistic opinion.
If you are allowed to sell your products you will gain even more information. Decision to purchase something is far creater than comment that ”I would buy that”. So always do the live testing if possible.
Prototypes are useful for validating your idea. Model can be service that customers can pilot or it can be preliminary product a customers and possible investors can try out and real world testing can be organized.
Be clear why are you building a prototype.
Check-list for completion
- Written learning goals for prototype
- Prototype is constructed on the selected level
- Prototype is tested with customers (test type is defined by the prototype)