In the pursuit of innovation, prototypes serve as essential stepping stones toward the creation of novel products or product components. These simplified product versions are pivotal for testing and refining ideas before making substantial commitments in terms of resources and effort.
In the realm of digital products, prototypes fall into two categories: user experience prototypes and feasibility prototypes. User experience prototypes provide crucial insights into potential user interactions, while feasibility prototypes delve into the technical and functional viability of a product concept. Let’s explore the two prototype methods in detail.
User experience prototype
A user experience prototype helps you to get your idea into a tangible form and explore and reflect on different design solutions. Building early scrappy prototypes allows you to explore many possible directions for your product before committing to one. Once you have prototyped a version that you are satisfied with or want feedback on, it helps you to communicate your ideas and get insights and support — from both internal and external stakeholders. Based on the reactions, you refine your idea or decide to abandon it and move on to the next one.
A user experience prototype can range from a simple sketch on paper (low-fidelity prototype) to a sophisticated digital interactive prototype that can be tested on a smartphone (high-fidelity prototype).
Feasibility prototypes are typically built by engineers to validate the functional feasibility of a product idea that cannot be resolved through research alone. The aim of feasibility prototypes is to rapidly learn if and how a specific technology can be used for a final product — before major financial commitments for a project are made.
A feasibility prototype may involve trying out a new technology, a combination of hardware components, an algorithm, or evaluating the performance of a critical component. The key is to implement just enough to mitigate a clearly defined feasibility risk or uncertainty; a feasibility prototype is still far from a deliverable product. This approach spares you from spending time and money on areas such as designing user interfaces, security, scalability, and all other aspects that are essential when building a digital product, but not necessary to evaluate the feasibility of a product idea.
Let's examine a feasibility prototype we built for a client project. The project involved an innovative product that utilizes Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communication between a mobile application and an IoT device. Although some documentation suggested that our intended communication architecture was feasible, the potential risk was too high to make the architectural decision based solely on the limited information at hand. To mitigate this risk, we built a simple prototype to test the BLE message transfer between the mobile application and the IoT device. The successful test outcome gave us the confidence to proceed with the architectural decision.
In conclusion, both user experience and feasibility prototypes play crucial roles in the development process of digital products. A user experience prototype empowers us to visualize a product’s design, facilitating invaluable feedback that influences design and strategy decisions. On the other hand, a feasibility prototype lets us test the technical aspects of a product idea, mitigating the risk of substantial financial commitments without any assurance of functionality.
These prototypes collectively act as a compass, steering us on the path towards a successful and innovative digital product. Therefore, understanding and implementing both types of prototypes is essential for digital product development journeys.
Joël Sonderegger is the Founder & Managing Director at Voa Labs. He helps his team strategize, design, and engineer products that enable businesses to transform their ideas into digital solutions, while energetically steering all aspects of Voa Labs’ operations.
Previously, Joël was a VP of Product Management at Sygnum, the world's first digital asset bank. Prior to that, he worked at Zühlke and IBM, where he gained his passion for agile, high-tech environments in which creativity and collaborations are proactively encouraged.
Joël holds a Master of Business Innovation from the University of St. Gallen (HSG) and a Bachelor of Business Administration from Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).