Prototypes Distill the Startup “Wannabes” From “Serious” Players

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There is a tremendous resurgence of entrepreneurial spirit of late. With almost everyone pitching their lucrative product idea and anticipating someone to fund them — Startups are in “vogue”!

While there are millions of investors on the hunt to find the most profitable idea and shell out huge chunk of funding, they pivot their investment decisions based on the credibility demonstrated by the startup. Prototypes have become increasingly important to distill the “wannabes” from “serious” players.

You’ve kicked off your startup idea with some pretty nifty user research, but yet it is only based on assumptions. We often have a hard time letting go of product idea we have fallen in love with. It might look good on paper and the work put into its design might be substantial, but it does not make it a solid foundation to craft new businesses from.

In my experience, I’ve found prototyping to be immeasurably useful in getting critical user and stakeholder feedback early in the development lifecycle — where mistakes or modifications are cheap and easy to fix. For that to happen though, I’ve found it essential to cut through the fluff and layers that are being overloaded on prototyping. So let me bust a few of these myths that diminish the true value of prototyping.

Myth: “Why prototype? Aren’t we already doing agile”

Prototyping is a quick, economical way to validate your idea and is actually a tool well suited for iterative development. Unless your stakeholders are in complete agreement, everybody on the team perfectly visualizes the product and you are cent percent sure the user will love it — don’t skip the prototype. Agile and lean methodologies are all about getting fast feedback and iterating before we have created a gargantuan Frankenstein nobody wants. Prototyping will get the users and stakeholders to give you inputs, very early on that can help you tweak that sketch of Frankie into an adorable teddy everyone loves.

Myth: “Wireframe is the way to go. Skip the paper prototype.”

I often hear this endless raging debate of “high fidelity vs. low fidelity” prototyping amongst our design community. To which I say don’t focus on the fidelity, but instead focus on what the goal of your prototype is at that particular stage of design and development. And remember that at its core, prototyping is a technique to extract valuable user feedback with reduced time and effort, so you can fail cheap and rapidly. The tools, methods and level of fidelity will meekly fall in place.

Myth: “Prototyping is too expensive, technical, time-consuming, etc. etc.”

This is usually a result of getting flummoxed with prototyping literature that showcases gorgeous looking wireframes and product models as the must-have of prototyping. Prototyping can’t get cheaper or simpler than pencil and paper. Start off with simple prototypes, benefit from the resulting user feedback and tweak the fidelity as you go along. There are also a plethora of tools, software, stencils, etc. to give you a great head start. Don’t get overwhelmed, start simple.

Myth: “Prototype is the product.”

Take care not to overdress your prototype — remember the prototype isn’t the product, it’s a tool for getting feedback fast. Apart from the obvious loss of effort in overdoing a prototype, it also gives a false illusion to clients about the technical completeness of the “product” and the pace of development. More importantly designers tend to get defensive about their prototype given the time spent working on it and users skimp the feedback as they feel it is perhaps too late in the day to change things. Thus defeating the very purpose of the prototype — getting honest feedback and accepting it happily to improve your final product.

Myth: “Prototype ends up down the drain”

Most think all the effort in prototyping doesn’t essentially translate to results. Well, low fidelity prototypes such as templates, stencils, patterns and widgets can be reused for future projects. And high-fidelity prototypes can be evolved, integrated or built-on as the project progresses.

A technique that takes it further, and works particularly with cross-functional teams and web development is “Extreme Prototyping”. You start with a static UI prototype of HTML pages that allows users and stakeholders to review the look and feel. In the next phase functionality is added to the UI prototype without focusing on integrating with underlying services. Finally, the services are implemented and integrated with the UI.

Scale Your Startup Credibility 10x. Prototype.

I hope this myth busting has helped clear some of the common fears and misconceptions about prototyping.

Make prototyping an indispensable aspect of your product development lifecycle and witness the immense value that it brings by luring investors.

Written by

Author | Vice President and Global Head, Digital Design — HARMAN International (A Samsung Company) www.mohankrishnaraj.com

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