Why Prototyping is Essential to Your Design Process

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Proceeding with an assumption that your design “will be liked” by the users because it is “so advanced” or “so user-friendly” could lead to disaster.

It’s no wonder that over 90% of new products launched every year fail. Product development teams often miss the truth about where their product stands – regarding design and functionality.

How do you determine if your product’s design is a hit or a miss? The answer is simple, yet one that works in the real world: you create a prototype and test it with the product’s intended users. Based on their feedback, you decide whether the design is a hit or a miss.

The problem is not necessarily that prototyping is missing from the design process; even if it is present, it lacks purpose.

The Right and Wrong Ways to Prototype

Developing a prototype like most people do it or developing it like you have always done it is equally off-base.

Instead, every prototype must be developed with a specific purpose; the most common purposes for developing a prototype may include the following:

Feature testing: Testing specific features of a product with the end user.

Presentation: Presenting how a product will look and feel to an audience who doesn’t have an idea or a reference to draw comparisons to.

Demonstration: Demonstrating the functionality of a given product either and getting feedback.

Specific Mistakes to Avoid

Not validating the product idea

If the product you are, no matter what results you get from prototype testing, your product will probably not do well in the market.

Before proceeding to prototype development, validate your product idea for desirability, viability, and feasibility.

Basing your Testing Results on One Source

Solely relying on the user’s verbal feedback can cause you to miss crucial insights into how they interact with the product. On the other hand, relying only on the data from the tracking tools can get you overly occupied.

Combining the user’s feedback and data from tracking their interactions will give you a complete picture.

Not Paying Attention to the Setting

Users’ preferences and behaviors change with a change in settings. Hence, testing the prototype in the right environment (similar to the one where the product is likely to be used) will give reliable results.

Testing on the Wrong Sample

The effectiveness of prototyping in business depends on the accuracy of data. Hence, you want to ensure that the sample you are testing the prototype on represents the true targeted users of that product. Otherwise, your results will be misleading.

Misinterpreting User Feedback

Getting the users to convey their true feelings and interpreting their feedback in a way that uncovers insights about your prototype’s design is indeed a challenge. If you have a clear idea of what exactly you are looking for, it will streamline the process and enable you to ask the right questions and find insights in your user’s feedback.

The most effective approaches to prototyping

It’s important to adopt the right approach when going about prototyping in business. The following are the prototyping approaches specific to software products, and any design and development team working on software should know these and adopt one based on their circumstances.

Exploratory prototyping

This approach involves building prototypes to gain insight into users’ work tasks and problems, helping to crystallize vague user perceptions and needs into tangible requirements for an initial system.

Rapid throwaway

Rapid throwaway prototyping entails constructing a “quick and dirty” partial implementation during the requirements stage, allowing poorly understood requirements to be implemented first, with user feedback refining the software requirements specification.

Spiral prototyping

The spiral model extends the exploratory approach by embedding prototypes in various phases of the software development process to manage risks.

When is it best?

When the purpose is to test a concept from various perspectives to deepen the understanding. This understanding then forms the basis of product development strategy.

Experimental prototyping

Experimental prototyping in business entails validating certain hypotheses via the right experimentation. The emphasis is on conducting experiments to evaluate various aspects of the system.

When is it best?

This approach is particularly useful when specific technical feasibilities need investigation.

Let your prototype be an evolving product

An evolutionary approach to prototyping in business is about creating a prototype and letting it evolve through adaptations and iterations – with every adaptation being a solution to a specific problem. With this type of prototyping, the end product may look very different from the initial concept. However, this doesn’t discount the approach’s effectiveness, as the actual end product is equally (or more) effective than the conceptualized one.

Incremental development

Incremental development involves constructing a partial system from an overall design and gradually adding functionality and performance.

Evolutionary system development

Evolutionary system development begins with implementing a prototype in an area where overall requirements are not well understood, gaining a fuller understanding through user interaction, and continuously evolving the system based on changing requirements

When is it best?

When a product’s intended use or specific user requirements are ambiguous, it’s best to adopt an evolutionary prototyping approach.

A case in point is how Slack evolved to be a hit.

Slack is a classic example of a product evolving with changing needs and requirements. Initially developed for internal communication, It was launched to the market in 2013, and based on user requirements and feedback, it went through various iterations to reach its current state.


No business intentionally creates products that would fail – however, it happens far too often. This fact highlights the importance of prototyping in business. If done right, prototyping can be a game-changing step – helping businesses improve the chances of your product being a hit.

At its base, it is about having a purposeful approach to prototyping based on specific goals and objectives. In addition to having a clearly defined approach, businesses must avoid the mistakes highlighted above and proactively address the challenges. If that sounds too complicated, seek to collaborate with a technology partner like Hyperminds.

About the Author

Samar Ayub is an accomplished Project Manager with over 8 years of dedicated service in the field of Mobile and Web Applications development. Having overseen the development of more than 15 live applications, which are available on both the App Store and Play Store, Samar’s work has directly impacted the lives of over 500,000 users worldwide. With a keen focus on Product Discovery and MVP Development, Samar brings a wealth of expertise to every project she undertakes. She is available on LinkedIn for further discussion.

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