You can save time and money by building prototypes and proof of concepts to test how your digital product will work. Doing this allows you to see if features you want to develop are feasible before building a complete solution.

Do this once you’ve confirmed that you have a solution that your target market will want to use to solve their unmet needs.

If the product or concept you want to build doesn’t already exist, then you’ll want to build a proof of concept. This is a low cost way of testing your product’s technical feasibility. It answers whether you’ll realistically be able to build the product without any significant obstacles.

A prototype shows how a product will look and function. It defines how a user will interact with the solution. This is usually the first draft of a product once it’s been validated by the proof of concept process.

Launch a proof of concept

A proof of concept shows whether your proposed solution can realistically be developed. It will answer whether your product is practical and feasible. This is done by testing smaller aspects of the product to see whether they will work. It tests the assumptions you have about how the technical aspects of how the product will function. 

Before building a proof of concept, draw out your customer journey and a service blueprint. This will help you understand the moving parts required to make your service work. Define which of these parts make your solution unique. It is these parts that you will want to validate with a proof of concept. 

A proof of concept is by no means a completed product. It is rather a low effort build that can be tested on a carefully selected audience once it’s been developed. It’s important to monitor the analytics to determine how the solution is being used. 

Interview users regularly to find out whether they have experienced any usability or technical issues. Throughout this process remember to continue to define and refine your supporting operations. This includes marketing, finance and the other operations needed to eventually launch your product. 

Taking this user-centric approach saves time and money. Constant testing and updating of the various iterations along the way prevents you from having to make significant and expensive changes to the final product.

Prioritising value over effort

Once you’ve finished validating the technical aspect of your solution, you can develop a prototype. First you need to decide which features you want to prioritise and test. Do this using a value versus complexity (or effort) prioritisation framework. This step is vital because it determines which features will provide the most value for the least effort.

Here’s how it works. Look at all the features you’re thinking of including in your solution. Then, evaluate them on how much value you think they’ll bring. The value could be related to how well it solves your users’ problem or how urgently that problem needs solving. On a business level, value could relate to a feature’s ability to increase revenue, enter a new market, or increase market share.

Also, note how difficult it will be to build or implement each feature. For this you might consider how long a feature will take to build, or how much it will cost. Perhaps you’ll need to outsource skills to develop certain features, which will add additional expenses to the build.

Give each feature a numerical rating based on the value it offers and the effort it will take to implement. Plot the features on a graph once that is done. The X-axis is for value and the Y-axis for complexity/effort.

The features that fall in the upper left quadrant of the graph are the ones to prioritise. They represent those that have the highest value to your business and target market as well as the lowest implementation or build effort.

Building prototypes for user testing

Next, you’ll design prototypes based on your priority features for early user testing.

A paper prototype is a quick, inexpensive, and non-technical way of testing the viability of product features.This type of prototype is simply done using paper, pens, and sticky notes, even though you’re validating for a digital product.

A person swaps papers and sticky notes out as a user “clicks” or “taps” on “buttons” on the paper. Do this to visualise how the product will function and what the design, navigation and layout will look like.

This user-centred method helps to determine what happens when users perform certain actions on your app or website. Where do they land up if they tap a specific button or tab? Is the process they must follow easy and intuitive?

A paper prototype can be tested with a few potential users, preferably people who know nothing about the product. Observe them as they use the prototype and ask them questions afterwards. You can easily determine what worked well and what didn’t if you do this.

You can go through many iterations of a paper prototype, improving new versions based on user feedback. It’s much easier and cheaper to make significant changes to simple pieces of paper than to an already coded product.

Clickable wireframe prototypes

A clickable wireframe prototype simulates how the app or website will look and behave.  It shows the essential design elements and content and doesn’t have a complete, coded back-end yet. If you click on features in the wireframe it will respond in much the same way as an actual product would.

As with the paper prototypes, the wireframe prototypes should also be tested with users. Gather their feedback and use it to improve the framework of the prototype. This can be done numerous times until you’re confident that it can be used to inform the development of the final product.

If the results of your proof of concept and prototype testing are successful, you can share them. 

They are ideal to share with managers, stakeholders, clients, or investors who need convincing that the project is worth pursuing.

Experio has developed prototypes for various clients who needed to test their solution before developing it. Read about how we did this for Finnish edu-tech start-up Funzi as well as for two entertainment industry entrepreneurs.

Once you’ve validated the technical, functionality and user experience aspects of your digital product you can begin building a minimum viable product.

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