Jonathan Bennett

Prototyping for Validation

Creating custom software is time and cost-prohibitive. In addition, we know the least at the start of the project! This means there is a huge incentive to decrease the initial cost of learning, and the speed at which we learn about the problem we are solving.

One fantastic tool to accomplish this is a prototype.

A prototype is a fake, minimal version of the real thing. We eliminate as much of the complexity as we can so that we can focus on the key problem we are looking to solve. This lets us ignore the irrelevant details and we can more quickly and easily experiment with changes. Always remember, speed is the number one feature of a start-up, so having that is essential to success.

What are the Tools?

There are lots of different tools you can use for prototyping but I put them into three buckets:

  1. Analogue tools
  2. Pseudo prototyping tools
  3. Dedicated prototyping tools

Analogue Tools

Good old pen and paper!

This is a great way to get started especially if you are working with people in person. The process is simple, draw out screens, and swap them when the user “clicks” on something. You can even take this up a notch by cutting out sections of the interface and replacing elements of a screen, not the whole thing. As an added bonus, you can make mouth noises to simulate user interface sounds. This is not strictly required but does enhance the realism of the experience.

Because this is simply drawing on paper, this can be easily accomplished and changed as you get feedback. It isn’t super flashy, but it is super effective!

Pseudo Prototyping Tools

There are lots of tools made for not-prototyping that turn out to be great prototyping tools, with slideshows as a primary example! You can easily create simple interfaces to show the main concepts of what you are working on, and by linking user interface elements to different slides, you can easily navigate between areas.

These tools are not designed for prototyping specifically so they often have limitations on how robust they are, missing appropriate platform animations for example, but as a prototyping tool, they are still super effective.

Dedicated Prototyping Tools

Many tools exist to help with prototyping specifically. Balsamiq comes to mind as one of the oldest and most well-established tools for prototyping.

Dedicated tools let you work more quickly since they come with rich sets of templates and user interface elements out of the box, so you can focus on the real problem you want to solve. In contrast with a tool like a slideshow, you have to manually create many of the interface elements, whereas with a dedicated tool, you just drag and drop.

Because these tools are typically online, it also means you can easily share prototypes with anyone in the world!

So what are you waiting for? Next time you have an idea to explore, build a prototype, get some fast feedback, iterate, and make a fantastic product!