What Is Prototyping in Design Thinking? Definition, Types, and Benefits

The journey of developing a new product involves various steps. While it's tempting to dive head-first into the project, you'll do well to remember the adage – ''by failing to prepare, you prepare to fail''. 

Planning and testing your ideas before implementing them is the best way to ensure your brand can release the right products. That is what prototyping does – implement ideas into tangible form and explore their real-world impact before finally executing them.

Let's get a closer understanding of what, how, and why of prototyping.

What Is Prototyping

Prototyping is an essential step in the Design Thinking process and is often used in the final testing phase. Every product has a target audience and is designed to solve their problems in some way. To assess whether a product really solves its users' problems, designers create an almost-working model or mock-up of the product, called a prototype, and test it with prospective users and stakeholders. Thus, prototyping allows designers to test the practicability of the current design and potentially investigate how trial users think and feel about the product. It enables proper testing and exploring design concepts before too many resources get used.

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A prototype is a product built to test ideas and changes until it resembles the final product. You can mock-up every feature and interaction in your prototype as in your fully developed product, check if your idea works, and verify the overall user-experience (UX) strategy. 

Prototyping allows you to build simple, small-scale prototypes of your products, and use them to observe, record, and assess user performance levels or the users' general behavior and reactions to the overall design. Designers can then make appropriate refinements or possible alterations in the right direction. 

Prototypes can be of any form, from simple sketches and storyboards to rough paper prototypes and even role-playing prototypes that enact a service offering. They do not need to be complete products – in fact, you can prototype a part of a product to test that part of your solution. Often, prototypes are quick and rough - designed for early-stage testing and understanding – and at times full-formed and detailed – aimed for pilot trials towards the project's final stages.

To sum up, prototyping allows early iteration of the product during design thinking, thereby validating its core functionality. 

Why We Need to Prototype

One of the key aspects of prototyping is that it generates empathy for prospective consumers. In this respect, designing software or designing products for human use are not much different. Any product designed without understanding the customer's needs can result in unnecessary features, poor designs, and a host of problems.   

With prototyping, you can enjoy various benefits like:

Evaluate Technical Feasibility

Creating a prototype makes it possible to concretize an idea and assess which features pose difficulty in implementation. Prototyping can thus identify unanticipated physical, technical, or financial constraints. 

Enhance Website Quality

A well-designed prototype will enable you to:

  • Conduct testing for site usability
  • Inspect site navigation
  • Conveniently access information on the site
  • Determine correct placement of visual accents – what visitors should see first

Effectively Present Idea to Customers 

Prototyping makes it possible to present your future product to potential customers before the actual launch of the product. It could also allow you to devise your marketing strategies better and start pre-sales. 

Reduced Risks

Projects with a complete prototyping process are at lower risk than projects without prototyping. This is because prototyping directly affects project resources, time, and budget. Through prototyping, it is possible to estimate the resources needed and time for development. 

Iterate at Lower Costs

Information gathered from potential customers through prototyping makes it possible to improve the product until an optimal product is formulated. A good idea can be to create several prototypes before the launch of mass production so that the additional costs of unsold products and reprogramming can be curtailed. 

Simulate the Future Product

The most important advantage of prototyping is that it creates a model of the final product. It can help lure customers to invest in the product prior to any resource allocation for implementation. You can discover design errors and check their correctness before going into production. 

Provide Focused Feedback

Exposing the prototype helps to get focused customer feedback on the desired qualities in the product. This feedback is critical to understand the needs and expectations of users, business requirements and gain a clear idea of what the product is headed for. 

Planning

Through prototyping, the design team gets essential information that helps them to plan out the implementation. A prototype helps build user stories and emphasize on user needs. This brings substantial benefits to the scrum teams. 

Quick and Easy

A designer can quickly develop a ready-to-implement prototype even from a simple idea on paper if they understand the logic and functionality of the product.  

Types of Prototyping

Some of the common types of prototyping that you can use include:

Sketches and Diagrams

Perhaps the most basic form of prototyping, sketching, requires minimal effort and does not necessarily require artistic drawing skills to serve its purpose. Use sketches to begin the process of conceptualizing and building a new product and share the concept with teammates for more ideas and discussions. 

Paper Interface

Digital products, especially websites, mobile apps, web services, and other screen-related products, require a range of prototyping methods en route to the final design and development. Paper interfaces prove to be handy for early-stage prototyping for digital products. You can sketch paper interfaces or draw and cut out usable parts of a user interface like a drop-down menu or text field. 

Storyboards

Storyboarding is an excellent way of telling stories and guiding targeted customers through a user experience. A technique to be used for early prototyping, storyboards allow you to visualize how users would experience a problem or product and present it in a series of images or sketches. Stories help us gather information on users, tasks, and goals while at the same time evoking new ideas through collaboration with other designers. Drawing out a user's experience helps us better understand their world and to think from their perspective. 

Role-Playing

Role-playing or experiential prototyping enables designers to explore situations within the system that you're targeting physically. Role-playing can be best used in capturing and enacting the user's experience of using a product or service. Consider simulating their experience to gain an empathic understanding of users. You can create props, use objects and audio simulations to imitate the user environment. 

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Physical Models

For a physical product, you can use a wide variety of materials to build a prototype for testing. Physical models are often built using paper, cardboard, clay, foam, or by repurposing existing objects. A physical model is used to bring an intangible idea into a physical, three-dimensional form. This enables much better user testing and can evoke discussions on the form factor of the proposed product. 

Wizard of Oz Prototypes

Prototypes with faked functions that you can use to test users are called Wizard of Oz Prototypes. Like in the wizard of Oz story where the wizard creates an ominous, deceptive appearance from behind a screen – this prototype allows you to mimic certain aspects of your product to save time and resources. For example, interactivity that comes from a human and not an algorithm can be tweaked such that users believe the latter is the case. The most famous example of Wizard of Oz Prototypes is a digital system prototype, where the user is tricked into believing that the system responses are computer-generated when they are human-controlled. 

User-Driven Prototypes

A user-driven prototype does not test on users but allows the user to create some design, so you learn more about their thinking. This type of prototyping adds to the benefits of design thinking. Its purpose is not to use the user-generated solutions but to use their designs to gain empathy with them or fine-tune your product according to their ideas. 

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With such a wide variety of prototypes that can be built, it might get overwhelming to decide what to choose. Pay attention to people, objects, location, and interactions while building prototypes in design thinking

To be an excellent designer, you need to learn how to keep your efforts efficient and consistent. 

Learn how to improve your design thinking techniques by enrolling in the Design Thinking Leader Master’s program from Simplilearn.

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