Perfect Your Designs With Prototypes

Prototyping is an effective way to refine requirements and explore design solutions. Here are numerous tips for effective prototyping.

Karl Wiegers
Analyst’s corner
Published in
7 min readJan 12, 2021

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An image of a human brain in a 3D prototyping machine.
Technology photo created by kjpargeter — www.freepik.com

Designing a new product is a messy process. It involves initial brainstorming, rough concepts, false starts, and extensive refinement. Good designs begin with an identified need or opportunity, and they’re based on a solid understanding of the product’s requirements. No matter how skilled the requirements analyst is or how informed and cooperative the customer participants are, the first set of requirements they develop will be only approximately correct. It takes a process of iterative refinement and validation to accurately understand the requirements for any nontrivial product.

Designs that sound good in theory often do not succeed in real life. Unless you’re an extraordinarily gifted — and lucky — designer, your first solution ideas won’t be the best. This reality leads to an important lesson for every designer to remember:

Design demands iteration.

Creating an optimal design involves multiple cycles of understanding the problem, identifying and understanding users, articulating requirements, devising solutions, evaluating those solutions, and then refining both the problem itself and the candidate solutions. Ultimately, the appropriate decision-makers can select a solution that appears to solve the correct problem through the optimum balance of features, properties, cost, and constraints.

Prototypes: What and Why

You could wait until the final product is done to obtain user feedback, as through beta testing just prior to release, but at that point, it costs a lot to make changes. It is cheaper and faster to iterate at a high level of abstraction — concepts, requirements, sketches, and models — than on completed software code or a finished product. Prototyping is a cost-effective way to perform that iteration (Coleman and Goodwin, 2017).

A prototype is a partial, preliminary, or possible solution to the problem (Wiegers and Beatty, 2013). Compared to a set of abstract requirements statements are written in natural language, prototypes bring requirements to life. A…

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Karl Wiegers
Analyst’s corner

Author of 14 books, mostly on software. PhD in organic chemistry. Guitars, wine, and military history fill the voids. karlwiegers.com and processimpact.com