Prototype Testing: Refine your Ideas, Launch Confidently [Example included]

Last updated on August 03th, 2022

By Lilit A. Drampian

The role of prototyping in the early stages of product development is crucial. If you don’t test your product prototype with your users from the start, you may never know if they will get satisfied with it in later stages. Consequently, you may easily fail, even though you spent many days creating it!

Thus, the question you need to ask yourself after creating your product is: “Am I sure I haven’t overlooked any important issues in my product?: And, most importantly, “Will the users like my product?” 

Who knows?

Well, the users know! They are the main judges of your product and thus can give you extremely valuable insights on how to improve itt! 

In this article we will delve deep into the concept of prototyping and testing, present its definition and meaning, and introduce you to the main prototype testing methods. . Besides, we'll cover some key elements of prototype evaluation and the best prototype testing tools. Finally, we’ll talk about an interesting prototype testing example to show you the importance of prototype testing in designing successful products. 

What is Prototype Testing 

Now let’s give an answer to the question you’re already asking yourself: “What is a prototype?”, “What is prototype testing?” and “What is the best prototype testing definition?”

Well, a prototype is an early version of a product built to test a concept, hypothesis or functionality prior to its production. Testing a prototype is basically a way to make design decisions through validating them with real users before development starts. The goal, as with all things related to software engineering and product building in particular (and indeed any field), is identifying problems early on so you can make necessary changes prior to the final development. Otherwise, you risk having an imperfectly built final version come out after countless hours have gone into making something usable instead!

Thus, the prototype testing meaning is to help validate whether decisions made in initial stages align well enough towards meeting user needs and expectations; this allows adjustments needed early during development so that products are produced and ship successfully without any surprises. 

One important thing about testing a prototype is, on the one hand, to know in advance what you want to validate. Depending on your goal, you’ll need to create different prototypes. For instance, low-fidelity prototypes like sketches and diagrams are great for testing out concepts, while high fidelity prototypes such as working models can work really well for identifying workflow issues or usability. 

On the other hand, the users you choose for testing a prototype should represent your target audience. Only they can give you deep insights into your product and help you make its better version.

Having gathered all these insights, you can easily identify and remove the design issues, test your hypotheses, and save money as fixing problems post-launch can be much more costly and time-consuming.  

Main Prototype Testing Methods

Prototyping and testing can be difficult processes, but they’re important for both physical and digital products.

To design a prototype test you’ll need to understand what purpose you’ll be using them for. Running such a test often takes many forms depending on what you're trying to validate—from early concept testing all the way through production design with 3D models or 2D drawings as well!

Let’s explore some of the most common types used for for both digital and physical products:

Sketches and Diagrams

Prototype Sketch

One of the most basic ways to visualize your idea is to use ink and paper. This kind of prototype can allow designers or developers to test their concepts before investing too much time into creating elaborate prototypes that are difficult, expensive (in materials), and require significant resources from production teams. Sketches and diagrams are best used for sharing and discussing concepts.

3D printing or Rapid Model

With the development of technology, now it’s possible to create three-dimensional models in seconds. Instead of traditional modeling programs or artists' talents, now all you need is a computer and a special printing machine. These models speed up the transition from design to production phase, since they make it easy to identify flaws or areas that need adjustment. 3D prototypes are especially useful when observing the design of large products like cars, aircraft parts, engines, etc.

Physical Model

A physical model prototype is another early version of your design that doesn't have any working parts. This mock-up can be made from various materials, such as paper, clay, foam, bricks, cardboard, or any other repurposed material. etc. With a physical model, you get a three-dimensional object instead of making a large scale product or architectural plan. Physical models are useful for judging the form factor of small crafted objects or even architectural designs.

Wireframe

Wireframe Visualization

Wireframes are a way to visualize your website before anything else happens. They allow anyone working on your project to understand the structure and placement of different content on your website. This makes it very handy for everyone involved in website making, including copywriters, designers, and developers. Wireframes can serve as an early draft for what you'll see when finished, but sometimes they just look like blue lines!

Role-play 

Role-playing or experiential prototyping is a great way to explore your users' experience with the product. It allows you to create physical scenarios for them and gain an empathic understanding of how they will feel when using it, as well as reenact different scenes in order to give themselves more vivid memories - something other prototypes don’t allow. 

For role-play, you can use desks or chairs at your office, do audio simulations by giving users headphones to listen to soundtracks while sitting on the floor of an empty room, or even use VR glasses (or smartphone) to take users down a street that is under construction or inside a building that doesn’t yet exist!

Lego Prototypes

Another genius prototyping method is using Lego! It allows you to create quick prototypes and play with the design by tweaking the pieces. You can also use the characters to simulate the user’s journey,  set scenarios, and explain solutions. 

This toy has been super useful in designing serious stuff such as a complex insulin injection device. Moreover, currently, Lego is used to boost creative thinking and problem-solving in businesses. 

Working Model

At some point in your design development, you’ll want to see if your product functions the way you intended. For checking this out there is no better alternative than working models. This is useful for mechanized inventions or other designs with features that need to move or fit a certain way. Working models are the early prototypes of your products, which give you an idea of what they will be like. 

Storyboards

The power of storytelling is something that has been studied extensively by experts in various fields. From film-making to user experience design, telling stories helps us understand how people interact with our products and gives designers an opportunity for brainstorming new ideas before they are implemented into software programs or websites so there’s no wasted effort when developing them later on down the line!

Storyboard

For those who may not be familiar enough with this popular technique called “storyboarding”, it was originally developed back during Hollywood’s golden era where artists would create storyboards to help bring together scenes from different films if their teams weren’t necessarily aware of what should happen next. 

Currently, storyboards are also widely used in product design to give a complete idea of how users would use the product for solving their problems and show their journey through images or sketches. This will help us feel in the shoes of our users and make relevant improvements. 

What is Prototype Evaluation

Prototype evaluation is the process when a sample of your target audience tests your product to give you an idea of its functioning and their experience. 

This is a crucial phase in your product development as only after knowing your prototype works for your users can you consider it as market-ready. 

Here are a few key points you should consider when subjecting your prototype to evaluation: 

Get Ready for Running the Tests 

First and foremost, you should find relevant people who would get their hands on your invention and give you feedback on it. After all, who if not complete strangers can give you better insights into how your product functions? If you have enough budget, it’s even recommended to carry out prototype user testing with three separate groups: The more testers you have, the more accurate the assessment of your product’s performance. 

This kind of testing will shed light on your possible design flaws and help you improve them to satisfy your consumers. 

In fact, during the testing phase, it’s a good idea to record the process with your testers’ permission so you can analyze their experience later. 

Determine the Tasks 

The user testing prototype is the person who will give you feedback on its functioning, so it’s important that they are able to do what you want them to. So before giving over prototypes of a new design or invention for prototype user testing purposes make sure there are clear instructions on how testers should use these items. Create a list of specific instructions for the test group members and guide them during the testing process. If most of the testers cannot perform the tasks, then your product most probably has some flaws and needs improvement. 

Pay Close Attention to Testers Feedback 

The whole meaning of prototype user testing is to improve your product. Of course, you may be very much attached to the current design of your product and it may be hard to accept criticism. But if you see that most of your testers are indicating the same problem, this should, by all means, be a red light for you. 

In fact, people who test your product and find flaws with it are also those who can suggest the best solutions. You can, of course, ignore them, but this may be very costly to you during the next stages of your product development. So do give them a chance to give feedback and listen to them very attentively: what they say can be incredibly valuable for you and your product’s future success! 

Best Prototype Testing Tools

Currently, designers use many prototype testing tools to build stunning designs for both desktop and mobile devices. These kinds of tools not only help improve the project but also give you a unique opportunity to gather constructive feedback. 

Here we present a list of five popular and affordable prototyping tools to help you in your work.

Invision – Build Exceptional Products Through Collaboration and Workflow

InVision is a great tool for creating interactive prototypes. You can upload static screenshots and have them converted into clickable prototypes that your users will be able to interact with and understand easily! The online platform provides real-time interaction between designers and other stake holding teams.

In particular, you can use the tool for: 

  • Creating interactive prototypes allowing for rapid iteration
  • Running brainstorms
  • Using journey maps at the early stage of the product
  • Mapping out your project architecture
  • Discovering rich customer insights through seamless communication and feedback
  • Kicking off cool campaigns

InVision is compatible with PNG, GIF, PSD, JPG, and others. Its pricing ranges from free to $100/month.

Balsamiq – Build Perfect Wireframes for Your Project

If you’re looking for a tool to help you sketch and wireframe, Balsamiq is the one! In fact, as mentioned on their website, “it’s the fastest, most focused low-fidelity wireframing tool in the industry.”

With its intuitive interface, widget library, drag and drop feature, minimal learning curve and cloud-based software, you can use the tool to design websites, web apps, mobile apps, desktop software, and user interface. 

The pricing of the tool is $9-$199/month, with discounts for annual subscriptions.

Proto.io – Prototypes That Feel Real

This is another great prototyping tool that you can use to turn your idea into something wonderful. You can do that in 4 simple steps: design, prototype, preview, and share.

Using this tool you can bring your idea to life pretty fast. The tool is great for UX designers, entrepreneurs, product managers, marketers, and anyone with creative ideas. 

Here are a few reasons why you’ll like Proto.io

  • Web-based, no coding skills required
  • Simplified drag & drop interface 
  • User interface library with 250+ UI Components
  • 1000+Templates for web and mobile
  • 6000+Digital Assets, including both Static and Animated Icons, Stock Images, and even Sound Effects.
  • Animation features
  • Option to design, prototype, preview, and share.

The tool offers a 15-day free trial and can cost $24-$160 depending on the package. 

Userbrain – Test Your Product Fast With Real Users

Did you know, that now you can create a user test in minutes and see how it works in only a few hours? Userbrain gives you this opportunity. It’s a fast and affordable user tool for testing your website or prototype. And using it is no rocket science. All you need to do is set up tasks in minutes, select from the pool of quality assured testers targeting their demographics and devices, and get videos to see how real people interact with your product in just a few hours. The tool can be used by UX designers, researchers, or managers to build consumer-oriented products. 

Some of Userbrain’s outstanding features include the following: 

  • Fast setup
  • Access to 70K+ user testers
  • Opportunity to invite your own testers
  • Insightful analysis of user tests
  • Collaboration with your team
  • Scheduling regular testing 

You can use the tool’s 2 months free trial or choose the monthly (€35-99) or annual packages (€35-990). 

Principle – Create Your Animated Design

This is a great tool to design animated and interactive user interfaces. Whether you’re designing a short animation, a slick interaction, or an extensive multi-screen app, this tool can help you get the best out of your ideas. 

Here are some of the great features brought to you by Principle

  • Illustrate the perfect bounce, ease, and pop.
  • Design a totally new interaction without being limited to pre-defined transitions
  • Design the flow of a multi-screen app in seconds
  • Compatible with Figma and Sketch
  • Design for mobile, web, and desktop
  • Possibility to share your design to get feedback

The app is downloadable and costs $129. 

Successful Prototype Testing Example

The prototyping of digital products through digital tools is quite straightforward, let’s discuss a successful prototype testing example for a physical product. 

During the years of studying together at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker realized they shared a common passion: a sustainable and green environment with no trash. 

United around this idea, they joined their efforts and formed a company called Loliware to develop biodegradable drinking cups. The girls wanted to get super creative with the material and create cups that would be 100% eco-friendly and yet look like retro glassware, combining unique design with sustainability. With their new creation, they hoped to replace a percentage of the plastic cups thrown in landfills each year.

Thus, following their graduation in 2010, they began prototyping the cup. Considering the importance of the product’s functionality, the girls decided to make the cup also edible. Together with two other Parsons alumni they entered several design competitions and started working on the prototypes. The team experimented with several materials including gelatin, which is translucent like glass. However, after the first prototype testing, they found out that gelatine smelt and tasted very bad. It was basically a failure. 

However, they didn’t give up and continued experimenting. Finally, the team chose agar as a material as it tastes and smells better than gelatin, is safe, vegan, and holds shape. This time the prototype was really successful. 

This led the company to win the structural integrity prize at the Jell-O Mold Competition and gain popularity. After this, they got 60,000 cup orders from vodka-maker Absolut for a scheduled outdoor concert. Eventually, they dubbed the product Jelloware and raised over $10,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. This, along with an additional $60,000 received in angel investments from the Harlem incubator Hot Bread Kitchen, helped them start the production of the cups. 

Jelloware is one successful example of testing and evaluating a prototype. It’s also important to note that the key reasons behind the team’s success were perseverance, hard work, flexibility, and creativity. 

Final Thoughts

When talking about the usefulness of prototyping one truth that comes to mind is that by failing faster we can succeed sooner. 

That’s why testing a prototype is always worth the time and investment regardless of whether you’re a small startup or an established company. By showing your prototype to real users you get the chance to receive feedback from them, improve your product and release the version that would satisfy your customers the most. What you need to do is to choose one of the prototype testing methods and construct and test the prototype by determining the tasks and following the prototype evaluation steps. 

So always take time to listen to your users and one day, one bright day you’ll realize your product is a hit and you’ve struck the gold!

Related Articles:

How To Make A Prototype: A Definitive Guide

How to Measure Your Product Market Fit with Sean Ellis Test

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