The question of the prototype

  • What different techniques for prototyping do we have?

  • How to come up with the best suiting prototype for your project?


Prototypes help designers to learn, discover, generate, and refine designs. They are embedded in the design process and therefore more than tools. Prototypes help designers to prove the successes or failures of the design product or service that is designed. Prototypes are often used for user testing purposes. Prototyping is commonly used in HCI, to usually create a part of a highly complex interactive system. It can be hard to recognize what part of the end product should be prototyped and tested to bring the most value in the end. To find a solution to this problem, it is usually most important to concentrate on the user, to focus attention on the interaction. What is the role of the designed product in the user's life? What are the desired esthetics and how are these things implemented? With a clear understanding and reason, it is easier to make prototypes that make sense and help us in the design process. Prototypes can help designers to come up with the design question.

What kind of prototype would suit best to your project? The important three dimensions in coming up with the perfect prototype are to first think of the artifact, meaning the purpose of the new design. Is it to provide new functionality? If yes, it is important to think about what role it will play in the user's life. If the main focus of the functionality is to have a certain appearance it is important to focus the prototyping on how the artifact will look and feel. If the artifact’s functionality needs a new technique, the implementation may be the focus of the prototyping.

“Role” refers to the way in which the designed product or service is useful to the users. “Look and feel” gives the impression of what the user looks at, feels, and hears while using it. “Implementation” means the questions about the techniques and parts from where an artifact performs its function.

Often when designing interactive systems, it is important to mix acknowledge and make collaboration between designers from many different disciplines. Often interactive systems are developed together with a programmer and an interaction designer. Often also a project manager is needed.

So what is considered as a prototype changes within the artifacts of the project and also with what is considered a prototype amongst the design team.

“high-fidelity” and “low-fidelity” prototypes

Prototypes can be very different depending on how finished-looking or -behaving they are. Sometimes putting the prototype in these characterizations can do more harm than good. Sometimes the uses of tools are misunderstood and the level of finish is often unclear. Sometimes a finished-looking prototype might be made early in the design process.

In many design processes, it is important to come up with a design question before prototyping. This helps to find the different directions of where the prototype is needed for.

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