Should you create a prototype for your startup?

Matthew Rhodes
Matthew Rhodes
Lead Business Development Consultant

You’ve got a dream product idea, but you also have a budget.

It might seem like a good idea to skip some of the early design stages such as sketching, user testing, or prototyping in order to save on costs — it’s not.

What is a prototype?

Prototypes allow you to simulate products, ideas, and designs without sinking the time and money it takes to develop and implement them in code. There are hundreds of ways to create a prototype and it’s the designer’s decision to use the most effective method for the level of fidelity that’s required. We primarily use InVision to create very simple click-through prototypes. This allows us to continuously iterate our design, test it with users, annotate areas that need refinement, and share the prototype online.

Prototypes are essential for discovering usability issues before a product launch, testing user feedback, and determining whether what’s been designed has legs or not. Without prototypes the process of getting to a finished digital product can start to get a bit hairy, significantly increasing the room for error. Because focus is on what the product does rather than how people use is, a lot of fundamental UX (user experience) considerations can be overlooked. The workflows that aren't intuitive or enjoyable for your customers to experience might have to be completely reworked, and re-developed, which costs you time and money - cha-ching!

The chances of getting things right without a prototype are small and it's a high risk strategy when the first time someone uses your product may well be when they decide if they'll use it again.

“91% of customers who’ve had a bad customer experience won’t willingly do business with your company again.”

All of a sudden we have a product that’s been finished, but not a finished product

It’s hit the fan. You’re upset your dream product doesn’t meet your expectations; the project manager’s hair is a little thinner after looking at the budget; designers go back to the drawing board to re-shuffle their components and workflows; developers have to triple check their code still works after re-writing it for the fourth time because the design keeps changing.

The time that accumulates is staggering. That time then becomes magnified each time the product is redesigned and re-developed.

It’s like demolishing the 2nd level gym of a 5 story building and replacing it with a movie theatre.

But don’t worry, prototypes are here to save the day

What you see and interact with in a prototype simulation gives you an invaluable understanding of what you’re dealing with not only as a developer, but also as a client, a user, and a designer. Red flags show up earlier; the technical complexity of a component becomes clearer; confusing workflows are ironed out to be seamless. This tool becomes a living object that grows with every user test and iteration you put it through — it becomes smarter and smarter the more it’s collaboratively worked on.

Modifying prototypes could be done in less than 30 minutes, compared to an indefinite amount of time for development.

So what cost are we saving?

Time. The time it takes to create a prototype versus modifying code is incomparable. To restructure an entire workflow and test it through prototypes could be done in less than 30 minutes, compared to an indefinite amount of time for development. Prototypes allow designers to measure 2 to 300 times so they can cut once. It allows for quick iterations and modifications, and reduces the overhead of refactoring code later down the track.

We’ve learned first-hand the pitfalls of not having a prototype in our design process which is why it’s so fundamental for us today. At Custom D we like to fail early, and we embrace it. It’s inexpensive to make mistakes during the design and prototyping stages of creating a digital product. The quicker we get things wrong, the quicker we can make it right.

Let us know what you think about prototyping and what your experience has been with or without it by leaving a comment down below.