How to Create a Product Prototype and Set Your Business for Success
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It’s no secret that consumers are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to the services they pay for. In fact, a recent study by Microsoft reveals that 55% of respondents expect to see better CX year over year. The numbers are even higher when we look at customers under 34 and stands at 70%.
Now, what does crafting ‘better customer experiences’ mean, really? It comes down to building products around users’ needs – and one bad experience can be enough to turn them to your competitors.
In order to make sure that you keep up with the pace and develop unmissable products, it’s essential to engage in product prototyping.
In this article, we’re going to answer ‘what is a prototype’, why it’s a business-critical tool, and how to get started.
What is a prototype?
Have you ever struggled to communicate a thought in your head to others? If you have, then you know how frustrating it is when others cannot see or understand your vision. The best way to tackle this challenge is by designing a prototype, which will help you bring your idea into life.
A product prototype is a sample version of your final product which helps you assess its market potential. It’s a good starting point prior to engaging in mvp development. While you can prototype both physical and digital products, in this article we’re going to focus on the latter only.
There are two main types of prototypes you can build:
- Low-fidelity prototypes
Low-fidelity prototypes are simple wireframes that can be either created digitally or hand-drawn – as they lack the detail and color, all you need is paper and pen to get started. Also known as lo-fi prototypes, they are perfect for visualizing basic functionalities or entire user flows, such as payment or adding items to a wishlist.
These types of prototypes are perfect for rapid testing, and help designers collect feedback and engage in product discussions before committing to a single vision.
- High-fidelity prototypes
High-fidelity prototypes let designers create mock-ups that faithfully represent your vision. Although costing more than lo-fi designs, high-fidelity prototypes are colorful, engaging, and include interactive elements, such as links and CTA buttons. The accurate functionality gives you access to greater, more actionable data from users and stakeholders.
4 reasons why you should build a product prototype
Let’s now take a quick look at the benefits that prototype development brings:
1. Finding your product-market fit
A prototype lets you assess the feasibility of a product without spending unnecessary time and money designing something that doesn’t meet the users’ needs. Rather than rushing to launch, prototyping lets you pause, take stock, and examine how the market responds. You can then refine your designs and invest in developing a product that has a future.
2. Adding value for users
Prototyping is user-centric. It’s about building a better product for users (otherwise, why would they use it?). Your designs should be subject to extensive user testing. It’s impossible to add value – to make their journeys memorable and their mood satisfied – without understanding who they are and what they want. Every scrap of feedback you receive is data that tells you where to refine to meet those head-on.
3. Attract investors
If you’re seeking investment for a new product, prototypes are essential to securing that funding. Investors will want to see a working version of your design. As with gaining buy-in from key stakeholders in your organization, prototyping helps investors better visualize your end-product, making it a much more attractive offering.
4. Refining your designs
Feature creep (or mission creep) is real. And it is costly. When you start your design journey, it’s easy to get carried away with ideas. When prototyping, you can quickly gauge how users respond to these extra features, and whether they’re worth investing in. In other words, you need to chip away at everything that’s holding back the best possible user experience.
Tips to effectively approach prototype development
Now, you’re probably wondering what you can do to ensure successful prototype development. Here are a few tips that you can use:
Agree on initial requirements
When you and your team first lay the groundwork, your goal is to determine what you need to start fleshing out the idea. Treat prep-work for your MVP development just like any other business project.
Decide on the team and the necessary skills. What tools do they need? Are there company guidelines to follow? What interface preferences are in place?
Essentially, you’re preparing to prepare. You may not know exactly what you’re going to do, but by the end of this phase, you should know what you need to get started.
Figure out what you want to achieve
Innovating ideas. Overcoming challenges. Making enhancements. These are all great reasons to engage in prototyping. What’s yours?
Your product should solve a problem. Identify:
- A clear purpose for your product prototype – your goal should be data-driven and aligned to the wider business objectives.
- Whom this is for – your users, stakeholders, or both?
- What success (and failure) looks like
- What you’re testing
- How you’ll collect feedback
Next, you must convey this vision. Prototypes are as much a communication tool as a design tool, and a well-defined objective allows for greater efficiency. In essence, work isn’t being duplicated or endlessly revised to match the original vision because everyone on the team knows what’s expected of them. Where possible, draw key stakeholders early into the conversations and the planning stage. This will help you boost internal buy-in and minimize objections.
Once you have a clear objective, you can identify your priorities and deliver on them.
A good way to picture this is as a project management triangle. Place Durability, Functionality, and Aesthetics at each point.
- If your prototype needs live data, real-time updates, workflows, and coding, prioritize Durability.
- If your prototype is focused on new or improved features and how they work, prioritize Functionality.
- If your prototype has to look great and meet branding guidelines, prioritize Aesthetics.
So far so clear? Now, imagine pinning a star somewhere within the triangle, closest to the ones that are essential to the project. That star is your priority.
Let’s imagine you’re re-designing a landing page. Aesthetics and Functionality will be your top priorities. However, you will likely start concentrating more resources on Aesthetics, after you’ve made sure you’ve addressed all functionality.
Using your project management triangle as a guide helps you figure out the best way to begin prototyping.
Remember about wireframing
Make wireframing a core part of your design process. It’s tempting to rush past the wireframing phase. Now that you have a goal, you want to start prototyping your product. It’s an exciting moment. But building prototypes is about applying the brakes. At every stage, questioning, ‘is this right for our product?’.
You can create wireframes quickly, and they have a lot more business use than keeping it all in your head. They can be used as guides to elaborate on designs, or throw out unworkable concepts before wasting time on them. So, by taking the time to wireframe ideas, your product development process will increase in performance and efficiency.
As mentioned earlier, prototyping is user-centric. You want to know what they really think so you can design the best possible product. Honesty is the best policy. While it may hurt (and delay your launch), it’s better to receive a drubbing at the hands of potential users, then act on that feedback, than to roll out a product that doesn’t meet the users’ needs.
Remember to ask questions that offer actionable insights. Look for areas where users can expand on their feedback. The more data you collect, the more powerful the end-product will be. Some of the ways to gather feedback include:
Bring users together to discuss their experiences in an open forum. Focus group conversations often prompt responses that might otherwise have gone unsaid. However, it’s important to select attendees carefully. Ideally, it should be a diverse cross-section of your users to gain a fuller picture.
Platforms like Survey Monkey and Typeform let you make simple surveys with data at the back-end to help you make sense of all the feedback you collect. One of the biggest challenges is getting people to respond. Use email and social media channels. Keep surveys in a familiar format and on the shorter side. Tell users to expect them after testing, and follow-up with anyone who doesn’t get back to you. Offer incentives if you think this might help boost the response rate!
Listening to users talk about your product and hearing the language they use can offer valuable insights into your audience. However, it’s not always easy to reach people on the phone. In the first instance, check in with a message, offering a heads up that you’d like to call and chat about your prototype. Have your questions ready as a prompt, but don’t be afraid to let the conversation flow – it can sometimes be revealing.
Use the right tools
Choosing the right tools is essential – no business wants to invest in software that doesn’t perform as expected or, worse, doesn’t get used at all.
Tools like UXPin Merge can help you improve the prototyping process by driving collaboration and efficiency. Think of it as the link between design and development. Your designers build prototypes using the same fully interactive ‘live code’ components that your developers use to build products.
In this way, the idea and the implementation are consistent. What you see is what you get. This makes it much easier to collaborate on projects since everyone’s ‘speaking the same language’.
If your focus is on driving efficiencies and streamlining processes, Merge helps you prototype with interactive elements based on your production code, speeding up the product development process.
On top of that, UXPin Merge makes prototypes more interactive and consistent with the end-product, which improves user testing and gives you more reliable data.
Hold regular team and cross-team meetings
It’s not always easy to keep your project on track. Communication is key, so it’s a good idea to run team- and cross-team meetings. An opportunity, really, to make sure everyone understands the objective – and everyone’s working towards the same goal.
This is especially important for those actually working on the development of a prototype. Get your designers and developers together regularly. If your teams are already using a tool like Merge, these conversations will be easier and more relatable given that your designers are working on components that your developers have already prepared.
Apply the feedback to modify your MVP
Once your prototype has been through user testing, it’s time to action the insights. This, after all, is what product prototyping is all about: gathering feedback to benefit the product.
When studying the feedback – and deciding your next steps – factor in how these modifications align to the overall objective. Will it affect the project timeline? Are new features required?
After another round of prototyping, test the new version. Remember to use the same batch of users as last time. This step is about refining, refining, and refining until you have a product your users just can’t do without.
If you want to make your ideas an unmissable reality for your users, product prototypes are essential to your success. At the prototype development stage, your focus will be on planning and preparation powered by data – with your target audience at the heart of every design decision. If you’re searching for a tool that will speed up your prototype development process, and make collaboration between designers and developers smooth then check out UXPin Merge!