10 Types of Prototypes (With Explanations and Tips)

Updated May 24, 2023.
Types of Prototypes

Building a physical or software product consumes time and resources. If your deliverables don't meet the client’s specifications, you will have to spend more time and resources to correct them.

The solution? Create a prototype, get feedback from clients, and use the responses to make the necessary adjustments. A prototype minimizes your team’s exposure to risks throughout the product development lifecycle.

This article describes the types of prototypes and how they help transform your freshly baked ideas into working models.

Let's get started.

What Is Prototyping?

Prototyping is a key stage of the product development process. This experimental process involves the conversion of laid-down ideas into tangible and functioning items.

Prototypes come in various forms, shapes, and sizes. They help determine what is required to improve and fix a design. A prototype may be a simple sketch or rough material that guides innovators in validating a design so the brand can release the right products.

Correcting flawed products is expensive and can make an organization bankrupt. Prototypes prevent you from making costly mistakes and give you a clear picture of the final product.

The Prototyping Process

Types of Prototyping

Prototyping refers to the process of developing a new product by creating the first version of an idea for testing and improvements before real manufacturing begins.

There are 10 types of prototypes.

1. Sketches and Diagrams

Prototyping is not always as complex or sophisticated as you may think. The most valuable products in the market come from simple prototypes like a sketch or drawing on a piece of paper.

A paper prototype is a great start when conceptualizing and creating a new product from scratch. Sketches and diagrams are the simplest types of prototyping, but they are effective tools for visualizing and sharing an original concept.

2. 3D Printing Prototype

Did a fresh idea pop into your head, and you don’t want to waste time to avoid losing the newfound inspiration? You can use a three-dimensional printer to bring your ideas to life.

This prototyping form helps to speed up work for engineers because they can quickly graduate from the design to the production phase.

All that’s required is to input the design into the computer connected to the 3D printer, and what appears is a 3D model with all the relevant features. With this model, engineers can identify various flaws and make adjustments to ensure it meets all the requirements.

After observing and testing the initial prototype created by the 3D printer, you can use it as a guide for volume production.

3D printers are relevant when creating prototypes for big objects like space crafts, engines, and aircraft parts. The best part is that 3D printing is an emerging technology that will change the way manufacturing works.

Tip: Use the best 3D printing software to create the designs you want without compromising the print quality.

3. Physical Model

When creating a physical prototype, use anything that will give the perfect shape and image of what you want. You can use paper, cardboard, lego bricks, and 3D printers.

There’s no need to use working parts. What you require is an ideal means to conceptualize your thoughts and to prove that your idea works.

This prototype is perfect for creating scaled concepts before producing a large-scale model or various physical products. The physical model works best when creating designs, mobile devices, and smaller crafted objects.

4. Wireframe

Wireframing revolutionized how we create digital tools, websites, and software. A wireframe is simply a digital diagram, mock-up, or layout. This prototyping form gives a real-life experience of how the product or project will look in various situations.

Beyond developing software and websites, wireframes are relevant to writers. You can use it for excellent content placement to give it the perfect meaning and to communicate the written message.

5. Virtual and Augmented Reality Prototypes

VR and AR have taken the world by storm via the limitless possibilities they provide. You can use this new technology trend to create prototypes. Use this new technology to experience the product first-hand and identify its flaws with minimal cost.

You can create multiple simulations and make the necessary improvements as you take the product on a spin with virtual reality. Get a vast view of the product design with VR goggles.

6. Feasibility

Engineers don't always show all their cards at once. They add certain features to the product at the end of the production process, and some come in the beginning.

Feasibility prototypes help identify the relevant and compactable features before adding them. These prototypes are relevant for both physics and digital models. They help you develop your product as new ideas arise or when you identify flaws.

A feasibility model can serve as a temporary replacement if engineers discover that certain product parts are either missing or damaged during the manufacturing process.

7. Fully Functional Rapid Prototype

Establishing a fully functional rapid prototype is essential during product development. This prototype allows you to test the general idea of a product to ascertain if it operates in line with the original intent.

Fully functional rapid prototypes are relevant for mechanized inventions or unique designs with features that must operate in specific ways.

8. Video Prototype

Video prototypes are getting more popular as most engineers and designers use this format to create a perfect picture or simulation of the product. Designers use animations or simulations to display every vital detail and present the idea in the simplest way possible.

9. Horizontal Prototype

Horizontal prototypes offer insight into a design from a user end. A software developer can acquire information from the customer's point of view with this prototype.

Software engineers and designers use this prototype to understand how people relate and respond to their projects.

10. Vertical Prototype

Vertical prototypes are back-end models created for testing and improving database designs. This prototype helps to avoid mistakes in the design phase.

Software designers use vertical prototypes to test the software’s vital functions before they transfer it to another software development phase.

4 Types of Prototyping in Software Development

Software prototyping is the process of building software application models or simulations of how the final software product will work.

Let’s check out the different types of software prototyping.

1. Throwaway Prototyping

You can call it rapid prototyping because of its quick mode of operation. Throwaway prototyping is the most basic, fastest, and most affordable process of building a software prototype.

Once you create this prototype, you can only use it for a short time and discard it. This technique is relevant in acquiring user feedback from clients and determining if the design fits their expectations and needs.

After much deliberation and testing to see if the prototype meets all the relevant requirements, it moves to the production phase if it gets approval. Once approved, the prototype is no longer needed, and this is the end of its journey.

Basic examples of throwaway prototypes are sketches on a piece of paper or a structure made with cardboard and a mock-up.

2. Evolutionary Prototyping

Evolutionary prototyping in software development involves a constant change in the state of a product design before arriving at the final or finished product. The process is different from a simulation.

At every point of evolution, the design team conducts tests on new ideas to convert software design structures into something more complex and functional.

Based on suggestions and new revelations during the testing phases, the team adds new features and functions to align the prototype with the requirements.

The evolutionary nature of the prototype is flexible. It can take a long time before it meets the requirements or a couple of weeks.

The first draft of this prototype uses minimum functionality to make it relevant. But through various upgrades and added features, it reaches the required state for user testing.

3. Incremental Prototyping

Incremental prototyping goes in a horizontal path, unlike evolutionary prototyping, which has a vertical outlook.

This prototyping uses the ‘divide and conquer’ approach. Each segment of the software prototype has different sections. The engineers develop them separately before assembling them into one piece.

Before assembly, the individual prototypes go through tests to ascertain their efficiency. After these assessments, the prototype goes on a final evaluation to test functionality. Vital testing areas include consistency in look, feel, behavior, and terminology.

Incremental prototyping is time-consuming, but it helps to ensure excellence in the finished product.

4. Extreme Prototyping

The area of focus of extreme prototyping is web application development. Most applications include vital presentation and service layers. The extreme prototyping method is configured to the app's unique architectural design.

Web designers begin their work on HTML wireframes, proceed to convert them into functional pages, and finally include the services layer.

The user interface is the first construct that the team develops and designs before giving attention to the underlying technology, and the service developer gets into action.

Without the service developers, the app can’t function optimally, causing the development process to be fruitless.

How To Choose A Prototype

Prototyping offers solutions to various problems and makes the designers' results more efficient. However, there are different types of prototypes. Choosing the one that best fits your requirements and product type should be your aim.

Here are some factors to consider before choosing a prototype.

1. What Is the Final Outcome?

What is the outcome you aim to achieve? As a designer, your approach or choice of a prototype type depends on the results you want to achieve. This outcome can either be simple or complex.

For example, if you aim to make a basic model, you don't need a sophisticated prototype. On the other hand, if you want a functional prototype that matches a working model, you need to give more attention to details.

A higher level of complexity requires a more sophisticated pre-production prototype.

2. Who Are the Audience and Final Consumers?

This factor should get you thinking far and wide. If you want to meet with investors with deep pockets or upper-level management, ensure your working prototype or designs are easy to understand.

Don't make anything too complex because you aim to get them to know what your invention is. For example, you can present the feature and functionality of the proposed product with neat and engaging animations.

Tips For Creating And Using Prototypes

Here are some tips you can apply to create the ideal prototype model.

1. Consider the Conditions

Before you think of the prototyping method, consider how the product will function outside the testing condition. Ensure the prototype has features that enable it to work beyond the confines of the testing environment.

Beyond the physical conditions, consider how the final consumers will use the product. The prototypes must go through these tests to determine their limits. You can adjust the final design to ensure the prototypes are stronger or educate the final consumers.

2. Make the Required Adjustment

Your tests help to determine if your ideas work and if you can use the new design for mass production. Do not do a rush or inefficient job while you are testing your prototypes.

If you discover any design flaw or issue with the product ideas, you should make the required adjustments quickly. If the flaw is irredeemable, you may have to go to the drawing board and create a new functional prototype.

3. Prioritize Safety

With a visual prototype and various physical models, you can determine how safe the design and future products are.

For digital products, you can create contingencies against cybercriminals and hackers. If the prototype fails these safety measures, make the right judgment and get it on track regarding safety.

4. Involve the Team

Don't try to assemble the prototype alone. Ensure every team member is actively involved in all the various assembly stages. Their involvement offers insight into various angles which you may have missed.

This insight helps to give the prototype the right features and outlook. Additionally, when challenges arise, your team members can work together to find the right solution.

Prototype Success Factors
Source: UMC

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Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.