Explore Your Project

Are You Ready to Build a Prototype?

Lindsay Tabas

Lindsay Tabas

22 May, 2017

In the last article, we established the importance of prototyping before building your product: It’s a crucial step in the product design process that allows you to validate the customer need, get feedback on the essential features that make it useful, and prepare your idea in more detail so development can begin.

When setting out to create your first prototype, you want to make sure you go through the exercise to define your Minimal Viable Product. What that MVP prototype looks like depends on the idea, your budget, and your goals. Determining that first iteration of your idea requires just four key pieces of information:

  1. Problem Statement
  2. Target Audience
  3. Existing Solutions
  4. Customers’ Goals

The Problem Statement is a story about how you or anyone else has experienced the problem your product idea sets out to solve. Your Target Audience represents your ideal customer in sufficient detail. You’ll want to think about what matters from their point of view and how they may experience the problem in their day-to-day. In describing Existing Solutions, you’ll think about the competitive landscape and how your product will be different than the other options in your market. Ask yourself, “How does my target audience currently solve this problem?” Finally, the Customer’s Goals are what your target audience wants to do. These goals seldom change, and some are more important than others. Are there some goals, if achieved,that will  make you customers’ other goals easier to attain?

With these four pieces of information in hand, you are ready to detail your MVP as, first, a list of only the essential features and benefits that can solve the core problem. While you may have a lot of ideas for how this product can grow in the future, your MVP outlines what the product needs to do on Day 1 to solve your customer’s primary goal.

Based on the answers to these questions, your first prototype should be rudimentary; it can be paper sketches, a storyboard, or fully drawn images in a design program. You want it to be just enough for an initial demonstration to prospective customers. You also want to use the prototype so that you can validate that there are sufficient need and enough demand that people are willing to pay to use your solution.

What Follows the MVP

Eventually, if you decide to move forward with this initial prototype, you’ll need to use the insight you collected to build another one in higher fidelity. In the manufacturing world, this is called the “pre-production” prototype. A higher fidelity prototype expands beyond the MVP to capture all the features and functionality you need to have the first version of your built product. Where the MVP prototype probably does not include the Sign-up page and the Settings options, your high fidelity prototype will include all of the basic, yet essential, infrastructure.

These four highlighted areas above are not only useful for building a prototype. They are essential for starting any conversations with potential stakeholders, potential investors, business partners, advisors, and customers will be far simpler. When you can say:

  • My customers are…
  • They have this problem…
  • They can solve this problem now by....
  • But what they’re really trying to do is…

You are then ready to start talking about building your first prototype.

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