Prototyping is a crucial part of the product design and development process to ensure digital experiences meet and exceed user expectations. Bringing designers and design technologists together to iterate software and service design rapidly will lead to superior products that can be quickly evaluated and refined through early releases. Prototypes can be validated with “friends and family” then expanded to Alpha and Beta audiences before making the product generally available.
However, prototyping in itself can be a complicated process, consuming a significant amount of time, personnel, and resources. The traditional Waterfall model requires much more upfront product design and definition, which often locks teams into a specific experience. When processes start to interfere with the main focus — product delivery — we need to reorganize our legacy methodology quickly.
This reorganization comes in the form of rethinking the Waterfall approach by introducing rapid prototyping, solving the drawbacks common to the traditional product development pipelines.
The advantages of rapid prototyping are made possible by utilizing the breadth of possibilities offered by new technologies, data frameworks, and a novel approach to development.
What Is Rapid Prototyping & What Makes It Worthwhile?
Rapid prototyping is a set of prototyping techniques built upon iterative steps that increase the speed at which prototypes are created. It is a technique used in agile product development, especially early in the product lifecycle. It rethinks the traditional Waterfall method by allowing designers to move as quickly as possible without spending too much time on detailed prototypes that may not even look the same as the final product after revision cycles.
With rapid prototyping, designers can bring the product’s audience into the design process to evaluate the quality and feasibility of the design and research.
McKinsey’s research on why digital strategies fail highlights how, in the past, large companies have often been able to wait for others to innovate and rely on out-executing the competition. “A perfectly rational strategic response was to observe for a little while, letting others incur the costs of experimentation and then moving as the dust settled,” McKinsey explains. That response is no longer enough in a digital marketplace.
Rapid prototyping provides a safe, controlled sandbox for risk-averse companies to prove the case for innovation. It unlocks the potential to challenge, validate and justify ideas without allocating huge amounts of time, resources, and investment to new product development. Rapid prototyping allows digital product teams to win – and fail – fast, identifying which features and functionality should be prioritized for further development.
Key Advantages of Rapid Prototyping
A common misconception about rapid prototyping is that it is low-quality because of how quickly prototypes are created; designers may miss critical design elements and pose more problems than they claim to solve. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rapid prototyping, on the contrary, offers fluidity and freedom to designers and engineers, as the constraints from the Waterfall method are removed. With rapid prototyping, you can re-evaluate a product at any stage and optimize specific design elements quickly.
Here are some other compelling advantages of rapid prototyping:
- Your design teams are empowered to solve the right problem and solve the problem right through design thinking
- It dramatically reduces your product’s time to market. That’s the “rapid” in rapid prototyping
- It enables quick iterations through A/B testing
- It allows you to collect real-time feedback on a product’s direction before creating it
- It empowers designers to share their concepts with colleagues, clients, and collaborators to convey ideas better, facilitating the clear, actionable user feedback essential for creators to understand user needs and then refine and improve their designs
- The data builds on itself; you can identify exactly where the product’s design hits a snag and quickly rule out unfeasible approaches
5 Rapid Prototyping Techniques to Explore
- Paper Prototypes: Paper prototyping is developing ideas and designing user flows using hand-sketched “screens” that represent a digital product. Paper prototypes test the high-level user experience rather than interaction design. They are low-fidelity because they don’t have any functionality. The primary goal of paper prototyping is to map our information architecture and visualize user flows. The designs are simple and usually sketched in black and white.
- Interactive Prototypes: A digital interactive prototype is an interactive wireframe that is quickly created and iterated using prototyping tools like Figma, Invision, etc. Like paper prototypes, interactive prototypes can be used for early formative usability testing and stakeholder evaluations. Unlike paper prototypes, interactive prototypes can range from low-fidelity click-through screens for quick visualization of a design concept to a high-fidelity interactive prototype.
- Wireflows: A wireflow is a hybrid design document that combines wireframe-style page layout designs with a simplified flowchart-like representation of interactions. They are essentially wireframes showing user and system flow. Simply adding arrows and annotation between wireframes on a single canvas will indicate a user’s paths while using your product. Adding this to your wireframes will communicate the visual changes in the interface while concurrently describing sequences and state changes in the user interaction.
- High-fidelity Prototypes: The fidelity of the prototype represents the level of details and functionality in a prototype. In this sense, a high-fidelity (also called high-fi or hi-fi) prototype is a computer-based interactive representation of the product in the closest resemblance to the final design in terms of details and functionality. The “high” in high-fidelity refers to how comprehensive the prototype is, allowing you to examine usability questions in detail and make conclusions about user behavior.
- Functional Prototypes: A functional prototype is a contained representation of the hero user experience built in native code. It is created with integrations (or simulated integrations) to represent and demonstrate live data feeds and real-life experiences. Functional prototypes often serve as a mix of technical proof of concepts and design prototypes to deliver an experience that looks, feels, and works like high-fidelity across platforms.
The Intersection of Design and Tech to Build Better Products Faster
Product design failures in the development stage can cause massive losses for the organization in the form of person-hours and money invested in the development process. Rapid prototyping allows engineers to thoroughly test prototypes that look and perform like finished products, reducing the risks of usability or even manufacturability issues before moving into production. This reduces the chances of product failure to a great extent.
It also enables engineers to develop product components in stages and compare them with the prototype prepared. Any deviation from the prototype can indicate the design or engineering failure and help the development team rectify the error immediately.
Engineers at Wizeline already prioritize finding the right tools, e.g., Firebase, Twilio, etc., to help put solutions in front of customers faster, validate product ideas, and collect data for businesses to make informed decisions. Of course, companies can choose to build their systems as they scale since leveraging already existing systems can get expensive. However, this is a very different conversation from a business perspective. The first step is always to leverage what already exists to build a solution efficiently and quickly.
In addition to rapid prototyping, this process ensures customers get their products to market in the shortest time possible, meeting their business goals faster.
Nowadays, companies are more inclined towards rapid prototyping in their product development processes because it allows them to cost-effectively and quickly deliver innovative products.
If you want to deliver innovative products that are adopted and loved by users and capture more market share, now is the time to incorporate rapid prototyping into your product design and development process.
Wizeline partners with the world’s leading technology companies to bring their best ideas to life. We can partner with you to rapidly innovate, design, and develop products to gain the first-mover advantage. If you would like to learn more about how we work with engineering and design teams to deliver excellent results, please contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.