How to develop a prototype

How to Develop a Prototype for Startup Business – 10 step guide


Many of the products we use in our daily life, started as prototypes, which were completely different from the products they are now. The prototype goes through a lot of iterations and refinements, before being launched in the market.

Building a prototype is essential for many reasons, no matter whether your business idea is an app, software solution, or product.  Let us understand what a prototype is and how to build a prototype for your startup.

What is a Prototype?

A prototype is defined as “ The first example of something, such as a machine, or other industrial product, from which all later forms are developed.”

In simple terms, we can say that a prototype is the first model of your product. It can be a working model of the product or a digital form such as a video or an animation.

Prototyping is an effective way to bring your idea to life and identify its strengths and weaknesses. It also allows spotting any potential problems that may arise in the manufacturing or development process.

Prototypes can be classified into different categories based on the purpose they are created. Here are some types of prototypes commonly used by design teams.

Types Of Prototypes

  • Feasibility Prototypes – A feasibility prototype is developed to check the technical feasibility of an idea/product.
  • Low-fidelity User Prototype – This category of prototypes are basic wireframes used to convey the product idea to the investors, end-users and other stakeholders.
  • High-fidelity User Prototype – These prototypes are more advanced and interactive. They are used to communicate the idea to the stakeholders.
  • Live-data Prototypes – Live-data prototypes use real data to create prototypes that simulate immersive user experiences.
  • Film/ Movie Prototype – As the name suggests, it is a film or movie to represent the idea in the visual format.
  • Storyboard – A storyboard describes the product story in a sequential manner in which information is to be passed on to the viewers.
  • Mockup – It is a basic product without any active functionalities. It serves to showcase the visual aspects of a product.

When and Why a Startup needs to develop a Prototype?

Most often, prototyping is the first step in the product development process. Creating a prototype of your idea allows you to test, refine and perfect it before going into the production phase. 

A prototype gives you an initial view of the look and functioning of the product. You can assess the appearance, functioning and performance of the product and make necessary amendments to make it perfect before it reaches the consumers.

Here are some reasons why prototyping is important –

  • Prototyping is also essential to present your idea to the investors and get funding for your venture.
  • Creating a prototype helps to streamline the product design and development process.
  • Prototyping enables you to identify unnecessary elements in the design and abandon them.
  • Developing a prototype helps to save money as you can identify any abnormalities in the initial changes and correct them easily.

Developing a prototype is essential for startups. But many first time entrepreneurs are not clear on how to build a prototype. Here is a simple guide to building a prototype.

10 Important Steps to Develop a Prototype for a Startup

There is no fixed method to develop a prototype for a startup. The steps in prototype development vary depending on the product idea.

For example, prototyping a software product is different from creating a prototype of a physical product.

However, these are some crucial steps in the prototype development process that are common for most products.

  1. The first step in the prototyping process is to determine the ideal design for the product, its look, feel and functionality. You have to perform thorough market research to capture vital information such as the problems faced by the customers, the design trends in the market, competitor information, overall costs, etc.
  2. Define your goal. The next step in the development process is to determine the reasons why you are creating the prototype. Brainstorm with the team and shortlist a few reasons why you need the prototype.
  3. Identify the core functionalities. Stick with one or two main features you want to showcase. Prototypes go through a lot of iterations and refinements. So it is advisable to start with a few functions and build others along the way.
  4. Create a paper/digital prototype. It helps to give shape to the idea and streamline your process.
  5. Share the prototype with your team and other important stakeholders to gather feedback. Inform them that this is the initial prototype and there will be further improvements.
  6. Refine the design according to the feedback you receive from your managers, design team, researchers, partners and users. Some industries such as real estate and software development can stop at this stage as they do not have a physical product. The digital prototype will simulate user experiences and give an idea about the final product.
  7. Create a physical prototype of the product. The prototype must represent the appearance and functionality of the final product. You can use innovative techniques like 3D printing and CNC prototyping to create the exact 3D prototype of your product. 3D printing is suitable for products that require visual representation only. For example, jewelry, accessories, clothing and other consumer products. CNC prototyping is suitable for products that require working models to showcase the functionality such as medical devices, industrial equipment, computer hardware, etc.
  8. Refine the prototype to meet your vision of the final product. This step is the most time consuming as you need to pay attention to detail to identify design flaws and amend them.
  9. Once the final product is ready, do not forget to patent the product to prevent duplication and safeguard your interests.
  10. Share the final prototype with investors, venture capitalists and other stakeholders.

These are the ten simple and effective steps to transition from the idea stage to having a prototype of the product.

Creating digital and physical prototypes requires tools and technology. These tools are easily available on the internet.

Tools and Software Necessary to Build a Perfect Prototype

Building a perfect prototype demands a complete understanding of the product/idea,  creative skills and highly curated prototyping tools.

Here are some prototyping tools you can use to create an appropriate prototype for your startup.

  • Invision – It is the most popular prototyping tool used by innovators across the world. The platform is equipped with advanced features that include a project management page, drag and drop feature to drag and drop design components at different stages of the workflow, easy integration with tools like Slack, Dropbox and Trello.
  • Webflow – This is the perfect tool to build a website prototype. You can design, build and publish the website without any coding skills. The platform has a visual-based UI that enables creating a perfect prototype within a few clicks. The automatic responsive design of Webflow makes it compatible with all devices and browsers. Webflow allows you to create two non-hosted websites for free.
  • Axure RP – The feature-rich platform can be used to develop wireframes, flowcharts, user personas, mock prototypes, storyboards, customer journeys using dynamic content, conditional logic, animations and data-driven interactions. The platform has a free 30-day trial and has different plans to choose from.
  • Origami Studio – Origami studio is a free prototyping platform from Facebook. It is a perfect tool to create quick prototypes. The features of the platform include animations, seamless integration of photoshop and sketch documents, pre-loaded library with basic patterns, live testing on Android and IOS devices, etc.
  • Lulzbot Mini 3D Printer –  This 3D printer is a great tool for beginners and intermediate level users. You can easily create 3D prototypes of your product by adjusting basic settings like temperature, layers, speed, etc.

There are many other tools like Autodesk Tinkercad, Mako, Rabbit product design, Balsamiq mockups, Adobe XD, etc. that can be used to create the exact prototypes for your products.

You can use these tools to refine the idea and give it a visual representation to showcase the idea to the investors, end-users and other stakeholders.

Prototyping is an essential process that allows startups to test the technical feasibility of the idea, capture design flaws, identify loopholes in the manufacturing process and take necessary steps to rectify them.

Prototypes undergo a lot of alterations before they transform into the final product. There are many types of prototypes based on the way they are made, and the reason they are used for.

You can choose the type of prototype based on the industry, the reason behind the development of the prototype and the demands of the product. 

To transform your idea into a prototype, there are many tools that are easy to use and integrate easily with collaboration platforms.

Reader’s Insight

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