What is a Prototype?

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.

Prototypes can be quick and rough — useful for early-stage testing and learning — and can also be fully formed and detailed — usually for testing or pilot trials near the end of the project.

Prototyping is about bringing conceptual or theoretical ideas to life and exploring their real-world impact before finally executing them. All too often, design teams arrive at ideas without enough research or validation and expedite them to final execution before there is any certainty about their viability or possible effect on the target group.

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