Why Prototyping is Key in Product Innovation

Discover the power of prototyping in transforming innovative ideas into successful products.

Joel Sonderegger
Joel Sonderegger

Discover the power of prototyping in transforming innovative ideas into successful products.

Everyone who has ever built anything knows there is no guarantee of success. Failure is part of the innovation process. Even the most experienced innovators encounter failures. Amazon's foray into the smartphone market, the Amazon Fire Phone, was a commercial failure. James Dyson experienced over 5,000 failed prototypes before creating a successful bagless vacuum cleaner. Google+, Google's attempt to compete with Facebook in the social media space, failed to gain significant user adoption.

The best kinds of failures are quick, cheap, and early, leaving you time and resources to learn from and create the next iteration of your product or service. Therefore, the key is to have methods to create low-cost experiments to validate product ideas. Prototyping will give you exactly that.

Prototyping is a method for generating and testing innovative solutions by keeping the human at the center of the design process and getting early feedback. Prototypes can help you explore many possible directions before you start refining the details of your idea.

In this article, we primarily focus on user experience prototypes. Check out our recent article to learn about the distinctions between user experience and feasibility prototypes.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to know how to code or be a professional designer to come up with ideas for digital products and services and test them. The notion that prototypes must be high-tech, sophisticated, or costly is also a widespread misconception. A prototype simply needs to transform the concept in your mind into an accessible artifact that enables user experience and feedback. A prototype must simply be good enough to make a solution or feature comprehensible to the people you’re designing for. Prototypes can range from sketches to different kinds of models at various levels of fidelity.

The prototype made of Styrofoam that convinced Steve Jobs to greenlight the iPod project (Source: Dwight Eschliman)

The goal of prototyping is to get rapid feedback for an idea from the people you’re designing for, and then refine it by integrating what you learn, or discard the idea and move on to your next one.

Early scrappy prototypes can help you explore many possible directions. The key is to be quick and dirty - investigating a range of ideas without becoming too invested in only one. As you progress on an idea, the prototypes typically become more sophisticated.

Many reasons why you should create prototypes

There are plenty of reasons to start prototyping your ideas:


Some people think that prototypes are only created to showcase them to others. However, getting an idea in your head into a tangible form helps you reflect on your idea. Most of us have a skewed perception of our own ideas. We think our ideas are more mature and better (feasible, viable, desirable) than they really are. Only once you start building a prototype do you come across many open questions and possible options you hadn’t thought about—prototyping forces you to think about these unclarities and put the answers in a tangible form.


A prototype lets you test an idea with actual users. By testing an idea, you can validate if your proposed solution is the optimal way to meet users’ needs and problems. Testing your prototype with real users is also your first step to reaching a problem-solution fit.

iPod prototype before the form factor design was ready (Source: Panic Archives)


Creating a prototype is an effective way to convey your idea to others. By simulating a product or service, others can easily envision your solution.

A prototype can also act as part of the product specification. For example, a prototype can contain detailed interaction and visual design, which would be hard to describe in a written requirements document. A written description also leaves more room for misinterpretation. In contrast, prototypes provide a tangible form of an experience. They are a more concrete and tactile representation of what you’re attempting to build.

Whenever we build prototypes in addition to written documentation at Voa Labs, we notice significantly fewer discussions for clarifications and corrections. We’ve also found that it is more fun for most people to create prototypes than to write requirements documents. Further, engineers find looking at a prototype more pleasurable than reading a written specification. A 30-page requirements document can often be replaced by a prototype plus an accompanying 10-page supplemental document.

Gain support

Sometimes it’s challenging to convince superiors or stakeholders with words alone. Demonstrating a prototype helps to get people excited about your idea and to ensure that your idea attracts the necessary support to bring your solution to market. If you show up at a meeting with a prototype while others only bring boring slide decks, chances are high that the entire meeting will be centered on your idea. A prototype, therefore, is a great way to gain the support you need from any kind of stakeholders, such as investors, employees, or future customers.

Saves time, effort, and money

We’ve had many clients say, “We don’t have time to create a prototype” or “We can’t afford a prototype. We don’t have the money for it.” While prototyping is certainly not free, in the long term, the benefits of prototyping far outweigh the cost.

Look at prototyping as an intelligent investment strategy. You will spend some time and money building prototypes before starting to develop your final product or service. However, it drastically reduces the risk of failure and waste, as prototyping creates a rapid feedback loop.

Instead of making one big bet on a concept based on your gut instinct or the opinion of the loudest person in the room, prototyping empowers you to create and evaluate various solution concepts quickly and cheaply. In the long run, iterating at the prototype level is much cheaper than constantly altering MVPs or even later product versions.

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In conclusion, prototyping serves as an indispensable tool in the innovation process. Prototypes foster the exploration, testing, and communication of ideas. A prototype is also an effective tool to gain support for your idea from stakeholders. Gathering swift feedback with prototypes aids innovators in sidestepping costly missteps and facilitates well-informed decisions. Ultimately, prototyping increases the likelihood of a product becoming a success.

Written by
Joel Sonderegger

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).

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