Select the Right “Type” Of Prototype
You have a few options when developing a prototype. Will it be a paper prototype or functional code? A throwaway concept or a reusable design and code base? Depending on the strategy and the story, youʼll probably want to choose one of the following prototype “types”.
a. Rapid Prototyping/Demo
Purpose: To demonstrate the feasibility of product idea. This is typically a throwaway prototype often used to get support for a new idea, to validate a new technology, or to illustrate a new concept at a trade show.
Result: Confirmation that the product idea is viable and that it can work. In this case, you donʼt need to present a finalized product. Things can be faked and the code in your prototype might just be reference or sample code that could evolve later. Reusability is not the goal – the design should just be a rapid “best guess”. Basically, youʼre simply showing a design concept at this point.
Tips: To succeed here you need to really focus. Limit the work to one persona. That persona should be the most likely/intended audience of the product and should be specific, i.e. a physician, a data scientist, a CFO, etc. Try to also limit your prototype to one usage scenario – the key scenario that highlights your end-to-end value proposition. In practice, youʼll probably include several scenarios but the point is to keep them limited and clearly defined for the entire team.
b. User Research Prototype
Purpose: To validate the design concept with users so it can be iterated on quickly.
Result: An optimized design concept that is approved by all stakeholders. A user research prototype can vary in fidelity from a paper prototype to a Flash-based prototype. Often, you will do more than one round of prototyping and user testing. This will allow you to update the prototype before moving on to actual product development.
c. Production-Level “Prototype”
Our clients often ask us to “build a rapid prototype”, but not as a throwaway. They want to re-use the prototype design and code as the foundation of their new product. In fact, what they are really asking for is not a prototype at all, but the “first vertical slice” of the project. These types of projects need to be treated with a lot more attention – especially when it comes to design, architecture, re-use, and the inherent trade-offs between building something quickly but that is also appropriate for re-use in production.
Purpose: Validate the software design and serve as a communication tool between the project leaders and team
Result: Working, production quality code that contains all layers of the system and provides at least one usage scenario.
A re-usable prototype is the foundation of your app or product. Both the interaction design and technology choices are almost final. It is not “We are exploring a new direction for our product on Android tablets and getting feedback from customers” but rather “This is the design of the ERP client that we want to implement as a Native Android 4.0+ tablet application. It will communicate with the new version of our backend system for the Q4 release.”
Choosing the right kind of prototype is important, but it wonʼt mean anything if you can’t bring together the people to build it. That’s why you need to take some time to surround yourself with the right people.
Winning Prototypes: How to Capture Hearts & Minds of Stakeholders
A whitepaper by Martin Larochelle, Mary Pionkowski, and Didier Thizy.
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