Guerrilla Lexicon: What is prototyping?

Prototyping is an experimental process where design teams implement ideas into tangible forms from paper to digital. Teams build prototypes of varying degrees of fidelity to capture design concepts and test on users. With prototypes, you can refine and validate your designs so your brand can release the right products.

A prototype is a draft version of a product that allows you to explore your ideas and show the intention behind a feature or the overall design concept to users before investing time and money into development. A prototype is a simple experimental model of a proposed solution used to test or validate ideas, design assumptions and other aspects of its conceptualisation quickly and cheaply, so that the designer/s involved can make appropriate refinements or possible changes in direction.

Prototypes can take many forms, and just about the only thing in common the various forms have is that they are all tangible forms of your ideas. They don’t have to be primitive versions of an end product, either—far from it. Simple sketches or storyboards used to illustrate a proposed experiential solution, rough paper prototypes of digital interfaces, and even role-playing to act out a service offering an idea are examples of prototypes. In fact, prototypes do not need to be full products: you can prototype a part of a solution (like a proposed grip handle of a wheelchair) to test that specific part of your solution.

Prototyping is an important activity in most new product development processes. Whether the aim is to explore new opportunities or refine existing solutions, prototyping can be a valuable tool. This paper takes a look at the diversity of prototyping practices and the contextual factors that may have an impact on the prototyping strategy. Through existing literature and industrial as well as academic case studies, several prevailing contextual factors are identified and used as a basis to propose guidelines to aid practitioners in making important decisions when formulating a prototyping strategy.