Innovation at Lightning Speed: How to Use Rapid Prototyping to Your Advantage

The “ship-fast” approach in product development prioritizes speedy product releases over value creation, often by creating prototypes before investing in research or design, only bringing in design skills in the later stages if needed.

It often results in bloated and siloed designs that do not effectively address the needs of the business or users. Not to mention that you end up with dysfunctional products that require costly rebuilds.

Rapid prototyping can help prevent exactly this.

Rapid prototyping involves early validation of ideas and prioritizing the identification and mitigation of the most significant risks associated with the proposed solution. The approach is more focused on validating a solution rather than uncovering a problem to solve. 

Marty Cagan, Author of Inspired—How to create tech products customers love

Investing in rapid prototyping upfront can save product leaders money in the long run. All this, just by spending a fraction of your development budget!

This blog explores the underlying benefits of prototyping that most product leaders oversee and the best practices to make rapid prototyping work for you. Let’s start with the benefits.

The Triple Cost-Cutting Value of Prototyping

Prototyping is not a new concept.

It set the shortest possible path to the user—it connects the product’s vision with the recipients. This is its true value. Effective prototyping empowers:

  • Validating product ideas
  • Correcting product details
  • Expanding the product vision
Rapid Prototyping

All three concepts combined can dramatically reduce the overall cost of product development. It’s quite straightforward. The faster you get feedback from end users on your prototypes, the lower the probability of expensive errors in advanced stages. But, that’s not all. Here are some more benefits of rapid prototyping:

It Integrates Well With Agile Development

The lack of code in a rapid prototype makes it an ideal fit for Agile development methodologies, which emphasize short sprints and rapid iteration. Developers can just create a lo-fi draft of the product, test the design, and see how it comes to life, all without the expense of writing code.

It Integrates Well With Agile Development

The lack of code in a rapid prototype makes it an ideal fit for Agile development methodologies, which emphasize short sprints and rapid iteration. Developers can just create a lo-fi draft of the product, test the design, and see how it comes to life, all without the expense of writing code.

Interactive Prototypes Give Valuable Feedback

By observing users as they interact with the prototype, developers can collect feedback and analyze the data to identify areas of improvement.

This user data provides insights into:

  • How the software is being used.
  • Which features are being used most frequently?
  • Where users may be encountering issues?

If the feedback collected aligns with the initial vision, the team can proceed. And if alterations are needed, your team can create a new version of the rapid prototype.

It Gives You Enough Room To Find Your Product’s Standout Capabilities

Creating a product that truly resonates with users requires multiple tryouts and iterations. Rapid prototyping gives development teams the time and space to discover their product’s USP or as we, at Koru, like to say it—the wow moment.

For example, Uber nailed its wow moment, twice:

  1. When you press a button and the car shows up at your doorstep within minutes.
  2. When you leave the car without paying (if you’ve automated your payment methods).

That’s why they’re worth $60 billion. The wow moment at Uber is not what the login flow is like.

Rapid prototyping ensures that you can focus on these wow moments without having to worry about costly do-overs. It also ensures that you don’t get bogged down in details that don’t directly contribute to your user’s experience.

5 Best Practices To Make Rapid Prototyping Work For You

5 Best Practices To Make Rapid Prototyping Work For You

Prototyping falls under the third diamond of the Double Diamond design model, which is the “Design” phase. It involves creating a simplified version of the product or service to test and refine its functionality, usability, and user experience. Here are five best practices to make rapid prototyping work for you!

Narrow Down The Scope

The end goal of creating rapid prototypes is not to create an entire product, but only the most crucial functionalities that you want to demonstrate. Keep this in mind.

It’ll prevent you from letting your design phases stretch for too long. Otherwise, the process will become less focused and more expensive.

And that sort of defeats the entire purpose of rapid prototyping. Narrowing down your scope can help focus on only things that matter. For instance, a typical iteration might focus on the following:

  • Complex software interactions
  • New user functionality
  • Code refactoring of an existing feature
  • The visual layout of the user interface

Here’s a case study on how Slack nailed their product by taking a reductive approach:

Slack used rapid prototyping to its advantage by creating “throw-away” prototypes quickly and testing them with real users.

They put aside their previous ideas/assumptions about what was essential in Slack and focused on limiting the choices someone using Slack might have to make. This meant stripping away as much of the interface as possible and reorganizing it piece by piece.

This reductive approach led them to some intriguing but untested prototypes, which they then tested with users for feedback. By iterating through prototypes and gathering feedback, Slack was able to create a simpler and more organized Slack that better met the needs of its users. This approach allowed Slack to test and refine its design ideas quickly, leading to a better end product.

Don’t Spend Too Much Time On Any One Step

The key to successful prototyping is to avoid getting bogged down in any single step of the process. The primary objectives of creating a prototype are to get feedback from users and to provide a roadmap for developing the final product.

As such, it’s important to remember that the prototype doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be good enough to:

  • Accomplish the user goals
  • Keep the development feasibility in check
  • And incorporate user feedback.

Prioritize Function Over Form

Michael Guggenheim in his article The Long History Of Prototypes argues:

Prototyping should not be limited to the creation of initial versions or test models of products, as is often done in industrial design. It should be viewed as a broader approach to cultural practices. This involves using a tentative, trial-and-error process that draws on user input to drive improvement in products and practices.

The focus should be on demonstrating how users will navigate through the software. This is what should be evaluated and tested during the feedback process. Small details like color schemes or button placement can be addressed later on in the development process.

By staying focused on the big picture, you avoid wasting time and resources on unnecessary details and ensure that the prototype acts as a valuable tool for you.

Optimize Loop Length

To optimize rapid prototyping, it’s essential to focus on loop length, which refers to the time between testing a hypothesis and observing the actual results.

Traditionally, loop length is measured in months or years, but this is too long for effective rapid prototyping. Instead, loop lengths should be measured in days to enable quick feedback and learning from actual users.

The best way to go about it is to create a cadence by building in non-negotiable user feedback time twice a week. During these feedback sessions, test whatever you have built so far to capture the actuals and key learnings.

Design For Adaptability

Development teams typically prioritize scalability, but it’s also important to consider adaptability.

Designing for adaptability involves building systems that can change and evolve to meet new needs and market conditions. Here’s the primary difference between both:

Rapid Prototyping

Here are some tips for designing for adaptability using rapid prototyping:

  • Start with a clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve: Before you begin designing, make sure you have identified the key features and functionality that your prototype will include.
  • Keep it simple: Focus on the core features and functionality. Keep it simple and avoid adding unnecessary features or functionality.
  • Use modular design: Break the prototype down into small, discrete modules that can be easily modified or replaced as needed. This makes it easier to adapt the prototype to changing requirements.
  • Involve stakeholders: Make sure to involve multiple stakeholders in the design process—users, developers, decision-makers, etc. This way you will get feedback and insights that will help you design a prototype that is adaptable and meets business goals.

To Conclude…

Choosing a path for your product is only the first step; it is crucial to follow through with it. Through research and rapid prototyping, you will encounter new and unexpected things that were not visible when you began.

It’s possible that some of these discoveries will be confusing or undesirable, but the important thing is that you are exploring and learning. The key point here is that even if you realize you’re going in the wrong direction, rapid prototyping will give you the time, room, and budget to change the course.

More Resources:

5 Quick Tips for Better UX Writing

Koru UX Design Methodology

The Role of UX in Analytics and Reporting