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 might be an important part of the StartUp Experience. Letting potential users 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.
The prototype can be part of the 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 a customer orders something, he usually doesn’t care how difficult/hard/expensive/ labor 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 of the concept (visual, semi-functional)
- Proofing that it can be done
Can it be done? Proof of concept
The 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 proof to the 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 concept product varies by the purpose for example
- You can create a rudimentary demo product that performs certain functions.
- You can test out the service concept for selected clients that request some limited functionality.
Mockup –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 of images (in case of application functionality) or handmade concrete product that allows users to try it out in real life. Mockup clarifies the idea and allows the test group to visually evaluate the product.
Tip: For online mock Up’s you can use Mockflow free tool for basic Mock-Ups: http://mockflow.com
If your product is simple and you have a 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. The decision to purchase something is far greater than the comment that ”I would buy that”. So always do the live testing if possible.
Prototypes are useful for validating your idea. The model can be served that customers can pilot or it can be preliminary product customers and possible investors can try out and real-world testing can be organized.
Be clear why are you building a prototype.
Check-list before you decide to build something
- A clear goal of the purpose of the prototype
- A clear need to build one (can you prove your idea without it – it’s usually much cheaper)
- Good plans of the process and understanding of the common bottlenecks of the creation process.