7a. Prototyping

An introduction to prototyping

The value of creating prototypes


Prototyping is the process of quickly testing out your ideas so that you can share them with users and get feedback. To do this you will:

  • Put together a paper or cardboard version of your concept.
  • Focus on communicating 1-2 key ideas about a concept, not making the prototype perfect.
  • Plan to make multiple prototypes in your process, as you learn from users what works and what doesn't.

As you begin to narrow in on a handful of solution concepts that seem most promising, prototyping your ideas can help you test them out and decide if they need to be abandoned or changed.

Prototypes can (and should) be quick and inexpensive to create. In this module, we’ll explore common prototyping techniques that you can use in your own projects.

Which of the following are benefits of prototyping?

  • Can help you explore physical aspects of a product, like style, shape, and size
  • Provides an early indication of aspects of the design that may not work
  • Guarantees success when the product or service finally launches
  • Results in something that users can give you feedback on
  • All of the above

Two approaches to fast and simple prototyping

Paper prototyping

Paper prototypes are typically used to quickly visualize and test out products that people might interact with - such as what a screen might look like for a particular website or mobile application.

Here’s an example of a paper prototype being used to test out the design of a mobile phone application: https://vimeo.com/38256134


Cardboard prototyping

Cardboard prototypes are cardboard versions of products relevant to your concept. With a few pieces of cardboard, some tape or glue, and a knife, you can create prototypes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Cardboard prototypes can be especially helpful when it comes to exploring the size and shape of an object, or how an object might fit in with an existing environment or space.

Here are some great tips for building cardboard prototypes: 


Understanding the pros and cons

Match the associated pros and cons to each of the prototyping approaches.
  • Paper prototypes
    Best approach for quickly trying out design ideas for screens, especially when you’re testing out specific feature concepts (apps, websites)
  • Cardboard prototypes
    Can help you get feedback on physical aspects of a concept, like shape and size
  • Paper prototypes
    Can be easily reconfigured to represent different screens when you test the prototype with users
  • Cardboard prototypes
    Often requires the most time and materials to create

Try it out: Plan your prototype

  1. Select one of your concepts that you’d like to evaluate with users.
  2. Start by thinking about what type of feedback you want to get, and then decide on the type of prototype you could create that would help you collect that feedback. Make a quick sketch of the prototype you plan to create.
  3. Share a description of the prototype you plan to make with your problem-related learning group.