Prototyping your MVP (Minimal Viable Product)

Contributor: Emily Goligoski
“Prototyping” sounds scary. It’s okay to acknowledge. It can connote fancy product realization labs and the work of professional industrial designers who surely know what they’re are doing.
But prototyping need not require a design degree. Paper prototypes, styrofoam models, and physical mock-ups have been instrumental in the development of many a successful app and product. How? Putting something tangible in front of your teams and users–instead of just talking about abstract ideas while testing–can result in richer feedback.
Go for low-cost, low fidelity. Mockups of screens made with markers and paper and small models from cheap materials are great because it’s hard to get attached to them. Designers and innovators may be more likely to hear criticism (as opposed to being offended by it) if they haven’t poured weeks into perfecting a prototype before getting it in front of users. Consider them sacrifial objects that users can bend and even break as they explain how they’d personally put the product to use.
Specify what you’re hoping to learn with a prototype. When introducing a prototype, resist the urge to immediately describe your goals for it and instead observe initial reactions. Instead of asking “do you like it?” and expecting colorful feedback, have a user describe what they think your item is intended to do and then walk you through how they’d forsee using it. Don’t get disappointed when users and teammates say that they don’t understand functionality; this offers an opportunity to develop clearer navigation and instruction that will ultimately improve usability.
Document, document, document. Ask people you are testing with if you can capture images, video, and/or audio of their interactions. This will later get you to reflect on real thoughts and feelings, not just what you though you heard. Posting close-up photos and user quotes from your testing in your work space can also keep you focused on designing for the ultimate endeavor: human learning.

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