🪛 Prototyping

This is part 4 of How to start a digital business in 2024. The main question I will answer today is: Do you need a prototype and how do you do it?  

👋 Hey! It is Karin here. 

Welcome to my ✨ weekly newsletter ✨. This is the place where I tackle topics around product, business, personal finance and spirituality. Subscribe today to get each and every issue. 

Welcome to part four of my six-part series on of how to start a digital business in 2024. 

If you’re just joining me, here are links to previous posts, and a sense of what’s ahead: 

Step 1: Welcome an idea - On gaining an insight

Step 2: Audit your idea. On figuring out if you have an idea worth pursuing? 

Step 3: Find your audience. On how to identify your who --> this piece

Step 4: Prototype. On how to validate your solution and nail a value proposition --> this piece

Step 5: Resonance - On finding the message that resonates with your audience

Step 6: Retain - On keeping users around

The main question I will answer today is: 

Do you need a prototype and how do you do it?  

Let's dive into it.

Last week, we talked about finding your audience and identifying those who desperately need your solution.

Today, we're diving into one of the most thrilling steps in the entrepreneurial journey: Prototyping. What it means and why do you need it.

I am sure you have come across the word and the concept of MVP (I have also written extensively about what it is here.)

On the flip side, it is helpful to focus on shipping something and putting it out in the world to meet your audience and get real feedback.

On the other hand, first-time founders tend to read this as a permission to building something first to only then go find their users.

This is a mistake.

What is a prototype?

A prototype is how you visualize your idea before any development.

Think of it as the form you give to your idea. The form it could take to actually deliver the value proposition without the functionality yet. The form you need to communicate what the product is about and to make crystal clear what the value proposition is.

A prototype enables you to see how the product will look like. But it has no actual functionality.

It comes from the industrial production of goods where it was used mostly internally to communicate with designers and/or engineers so that they understand what they were after.

I like to think of it as the packaging box of a product.

Types of prototypes

  • Paper sketches: this is the simplest form of a prototype. They are simple, cheap and quick to create. Their goal is to effectively communicate ideas between team members, early adopters or even investors. Paper sketches convey concepts in a visual format that is easy to understand, bridging gaps between different areas of expertise. You can use them to brainstorm effectively and evaluate different ideas.
  • Digital prototypes: in terms of digital prototypes there are low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes. They differ in how polish the design looks like.
    • A low-fidelity prototype is also called a wireframe. It is more elaborate than a paper sketch, but it still has no functionality. It offers a visual and functional outline of a product before detailed design and development begins. It is a basic representation of an idea. It focuses on the user flow and journey rather than design or interactive features. It is done in digital tools like FigJam (by Figma), Miro, Whimsical, Proto.io, AdobeXD or Sketch and is kept simplistic in design because the focus is on the flow. It may have some basic user interface elements (be clickable) to make the flow graspable but has no functionality in essence.
    • High-fidelity prototypes come a long way in feeling and looking like the final product. They incorporate its visual design, including colors, typography, and graphics. Also, they are clickable. This allows the user to interact with the model like it's the actual product. Sometimes, they even include additional features, such as a login process. Usually, a designer creates them.
The journey from paper sketch to high-fidelity prototypes

Prototype vs. MVP

A prototype and an MVP differ in:

  • Scope
  • Commitment
  • Audience

A prototype has a much more limited scope than an MVP. It should be something you put little time and effort into. In fact, you should aim to come up with a number of prototype ideas and validate them.

You can use a prototype to communicate what the product is about and to gauge the first reaction of your users. But don’t expect much more than that. People are unlikely to pay you for that.

Since the scope is different, your level of commitment also varies.

An MVP is a functional development of one of your prototypes. Thus, making it requires tech investment. Even if you use no-code or low-code tools, it is something that actually works and delivers a solution. This requires more effort than a visual representation without functionality. You are less likely to want to toss it away because you are more invested.

The prototype, on the other hand, is easy to toss. You put little time and resources into it.

Prototypes and MVPs are usually intended for different audiences. Remember that prototypes are used as an internal communication tool. As such, they are meant for developers, designers and product managers (who are also often making them!). Users also get to see them, but more in the context of user tests and demos.

The MVP, on the other hand, is meant to be launched and used independently by users. The audience are mostly early adopters and potential partners.

How to get started

When prototyping, start with a piece of paper and get going. Draw and sketch. Mark and erase. Have fun and enjoy the process of giving form to something that hasn’t seen the light of day yet.

Walk someone through the process and see where it gets stuck.

Once you are comfortable, feel free to experiment with the following tools:

Next week: 🏗 Resonance. On finding a message that resonates with your audience

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