A prototype by definition is an early model of a product, process or service built for testing for replication or learning. In a start-up, this process can move parallel to the manifestation of the entity and allied activities. If prototyping is compromised, it causes unfavourable impact to the start-up concerning financial losses and perception of the start-up.
The prototyping process is the most crucial aspect of monetizing of an idea which determines the destiny of the start-up and hence needs to be intensely focussed upon. Before the actual prototyping, an interview process is an ideal proposition with a random sample. This gives you a fair idea of conceptualizing and designing a real statistical survey. The correctly formulated survey which converges into a decision-making tool is a must. A failed concept is better than a failed prototype, and a failed prototype is better than a commercialized failed product. A survey gets you insight into how the concept can be developed and how the prototype would look like.
When it comes to physical goods, there are two types of approaches to a prototype, a test rig or a mock-up (focused prototype), and we could also have an option of a comprehensive prototype which is a fully functional product. Normally we move from a focused prototype to a comprehensive prototype. Mock-ups normally are stunted versions of a fully functional product. Comprehensive prototypes can fall under various categories such as:
- Proof of concept: This is a very preliminary prototype done through a pilot project. The intent being check for feasibility or demonstration in principle.
- Alpha: This is the first prototype created by the development company actively. It is the first testable version of the product open to iterations.
- Beta: This is an exact geometry of the production version produced for reliability & bug testing.
- Pre-production: It is the final version of the product which precisely defines the manufacturing process for mass production.
The above is mostly used in manufactured products and for service and software products we have the following prototypes:
- Low fidelity: Static drawings depicting the concept.
- Medium/High Static: Concepts created using software tools providing visual gratification.
- Medium/High fidelity: These are interactive prototypes which give user experiential evaluation. High fidelity is what you see is what you get.
- Evolutionary: System is developed to continuously improve the product based on consumer feedback.
Service companies need to own and operate the prototype and take feedback live. Here the consumer experiences the prototype not aware of what is happening in the background. The live experiences test the concept and are an ongoing process of improvement. A classic example would be a restaurant or an airline. A fully functional service is open for testing as a rule.
Design thinking provides a great insight into prototyping. It defines the following steps to the development of prototypes and brings it to the point of hypothesis testing.
- Define the problem and reframe to opportunity statement.
- Generate alternatives in a controlled environment through left and right brain activation tools
- Select the immediately implementable ideas.
- Build a prototype and test for a hypothesis.
Once the hypothesis is generated, it is tested through the learning launch which is an important aspect of design thinking. It comprises of the following test parameters:
- Execution: All elements for creating a final product must be available real-time
- Defensibility: Survey outcome defines the product would be consumed by the market.
- Scalability: The product allows “doing better with lesser.”
- Value creation: It adds features to consumers that will provide more than what is available currently.
Once the hypothesis is tested for commercial success in the learning launch; then the prototyping commences.
Prototyping is an innovation process, and thus design thinking emphasizes the diversity of experience in an individual. As regards group if they come with similar domain expertise with a diversity of repertoire then the innovation is fast and efficient. People from different domains normally drag the innovation process owing to conflicts.
Start-ups must spend time in incubation centres and accelerator centres and curate prototypes to their logical conclusion. ‘The cat must drink the milk”. A prototype curated to pass the rational & emotional test of the consumers is bound to scale when it is launched as a product in the market. Happy prototyping!