If you’re a designer working on a project and you face a problem that you want to solve, you most likely will spend some time debating and, after a while, come up with a potential solution. Without any doubt, you’ll then put some effort into building this idea. But what happens if your solution is wrong? A well-executed bad idea is a big waste of time and energy. With so much at stake, it’s critical to reveal a bad idea as early as possible. So, how do you distinguish a good idea from a bad one?
Fortunately, we have a tool that allows us to do that — a prototype. A prototype is an experimental model of an idea that allows you to test it before fully building the solution. In this article, I’ll review the concept of rapid prototyping and provide a few recommendations on how to do it.
What is rapid prototyping?
Rapid prototyping is an analogy for proof of concept — it’s a process of quickly creating the future state of a product, be it a website or an app, and validating it with a group of users, stakeholders, developers, and other designers. The ‘rapid’ part of rapid prototyping implies this type of prototyping is quicker and cheaper than creating a full-blown version of your idea in code.
The whole concept of rapid prototyping is based on the idea that by setting a direction for a design team and iterating rapidly it’s possible to get to a product that will present the maximum value for people who will use it.
A prototype often starts small by designing a few core parts of a product (e.g. key user flows), and grows in breadth and depth over multiple iterations as required areas are built out. The finalized version of a prototype is handed off for development. The process of rapid prototyping can be presented as a cycle with three stages.
Prototyping. Creating a solution that can be reviewed and tested.
Reviewing. Giving your prototype to users/stakeholders and gathering feedback that helps you understand what’s working well and what’s not.
Refining. Based on feedback, identify areas that need to be refined or clarified. The list of refinements will form a scope of work for your next design iteration.