The concept of a Minimum Viable Product has permeated the world of tech since the popularization of the lean startup mentality. The problem with an MVP is that people sometimes build it based on market research or a hunch before they start their testing. Prototyping on the other hand is a far faster, cheaper, and less risky way of getting to the MVP.
In this sense, prototyping means illustrating the design and functionality (aka the look and feel) of your product without actually coding anything. Different kinds of prototyping can be used for different stages of product ideation. Napkin sketches are great for getting your idea down on paper. A high fidelity functional prototype is better for securing buy-in and testing with users. Development for an MVP is expensive and time consuming so our belief is that it should only be done once – after prototyping. Best of all, a prototype can become a kind of functional requirements document for the devs. They can experience what they’re supposed to build rather than just read about it – which speeds up development.
There are a ton of different prototyping tools and tons of blogs discussing the merits of each. This article does a great job of helping you determine which one to use and when. We generally like to use Axure but there are many more. A few of the more popular ones are:
It’s faster, it’s cheaper, it’s less risky
Still not enough? Here’s three more for why you should spend your time prototyping rather than coding an MVP. Prototypes are…
Spending a few weeks prototyping your product can get you to the point where it looks and feels like the final product. You can take this prototype (which with Axure is essentially just a webpage) and test it with real users to get their feedback. This feedback is a critical step in validating your concept. Because the prototype can be done up to look and feel just like your final product you can test, get user feedback, iterate, and repeat in days rather than months.
Supportive of quick iteration
With the user feedback you gather during testing you can make changes to your prototype quickly (days, even hours!) without have to re-write any code. This makes iteration quick, cheap, and allows for more cycles within your timeline and budgetary constraints. You learn more and more about your users every time you test and iterate so you’ll get closer to your final product faster and cheaper.
Successful products are those which cover the needs of all stakeholders. Users, product people, marketing, and subject matter experts all need to have their say. With a prototype all internal stakeholders can get their eyes on the product early and often to make sure their needs are being met. No ‘big reveal’. No surprises that the product team forgot about lead capture opportunities and Sales sends you back to the drawing board.
Rather than spending months developing the app and then testing it, we collaboratively prototyped and tested it in a matter of weeks. The dev team only had to build it once. They had a clickable prototype to play with so they could see what they needed to build. It was a faster, cheaper, testable, collaborative, and iterative process. Over all it decreased the risk of building the wrong thing.