At design company IDEO, there is a saying that goes “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings”. In other words, building a prototype is a big deal — an essential step in developing a polished, functional final product. Just as an architect wouldn’t start building a project without making a scale model to see whether their idea works, it’s a good idea for any aspiring tech entrepreneur to get a feel for what their final product will look like through what’s called digital prototyping. If you’ve never heard of digital prototyping before, don’t worry. The Shortcut is here to help! In an online event spanning a grand total of four days from May 25th to May 28th, you’ll have the opportunity to learn all about the processes and techniques you need to create a successful digital prototype for your product, whether you already have a business idea in mind or not. If this sounds like something for you, don’t hesitate to sign up here — what are you waiting for? It’s free! To help you get started, we’ll be telling you about some of the basics of digital prototyping in this post.
What is digital prototyping?
Learning how to get started with digital prototyping is all good and well, you might think, but what is digital prototyping? By definition, a digital prototype is a simulation of a product that lets you test and explore an idea for a digital product or service before you develop the MVP or minimum viable product. This can be anything from a model, a simulation, or even an early sample. To make a long story short; a digital prototype is an early example of your product that meant to help gather feedback — valuable feedback, which will let you optimise your product efficiently rather than relying solely on assumptions and moving forward with an untested minimum viable product. Digital prototypes are your friend! They can help prevent a lot of frustration having to go back and fix all the issues you might’ve found earlier on if you’d made a prototype.
Getting started with digital prototyping
There is no set formula for how to get started with your prototype. However, there are some rules of thumb that will make the process that tad bit smoother. The first and perhaps the most fundamental thing to keep in mind when building your idea and prototype is user needs. The very base of developing a business idea is to find a need, and then try to provide your users with a solution. Once you have an idea of the need that you want to address, you can start prototyping with a series of not just goals, but assumptions to put to the test. An example of a user need might be something as seemingly banal as wanting to be able to identify plants through a picture, or a forecast for when you’re most likely to spot the northern lights — as long as you have a clear need in mind when starting your prototype, you’re on the right track.
Another thing worth keeping in mind is that the prototype that works for the next person might not be the one that works for you. The only thing about a prototype that’s set in stone, is that it’s the first time you see your business idea come to life. One person might feel that the most efficient way to prototype their idea is through a working sample; the next person might want to stick to sketching out rough ideas, and so on, and so forth. Do what feels right for you and your own idea!
Finally, treat your prototype as if you were a toddler in a sandbox — yes, really. Many aspiring entrepreneurs make the mistake of diving into the process of prototyping with the expectation to have a near-polished minimum viable product by the end of it; more often than not, that’s not what happens. Instead, enjoy the process of bringing your business idea to life, exploring your options along the way and keeping in mind that this is the stage at which mistakes are easiest to fix.
Best practices for digital prototyping
Once you’ve figured out exactly what user needs you’re looking to solve and have decided what kind of prototype you’d like to build, you’re ready to start prototyping. A good idea to help you stay on track, which I already alluded to earlier, is to define a set of goals you are hoping to achieve through your prototype. Make a list of what exactly it is about your product that you want to test; functionality is an obvious one, but you might also want to take this opportunity to test engagement and user attitude. It’s helpful to define clearly for yourself what constitutes success for your prototype, as well.
To sum it all up, the golden rule of digital prototyping is to stay focused and know what you are prototyping for in the first place, but staying flexible enough in your approach that you don’t wind up painting yourself into a corner. If you’re curious to learn more about the ins and outs of digital prototyping and even have the opportunity to create your own digital prototype to be judged by the people of Slush and Junction, don’t hesitate to sign up for our online Digital Prototyping Week from May 25th to May 28th!
By Charlotte Van Hulle – May 13th, 2020