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The best tools for prototyping

When trying to pick which tool to use for prototyping, it’s helpful to consider what you want to learn, your constraints, whether it’s worthwhile to involve others, and your general requirements. Michelle Chu suggests the best prototyping tools based on these criteria. Think of this post as a reference to the best tool for different situations.

Different types of prototypes

There are several different types of prototypes, and each one works better in different situations. Marty Cagan took a look at four main types of prototypes and compared the strengths and weaknesses of each type.

How do product managers use prototypes?

The folks at CanvasFlip recently conducted a survey to understand the relationship between product managers and prototypes. The results of the survey provided some insights into why product managers use prototypes and how product managers can contribute to an overall prototyping effort.

Prototyping helps elicitation and feedback

Scott Sehlhorst reminds us that “a prototype is worth a thousand lines of code”. It’s important to remember why you’re using a prototype and to choose the fidelity of your prototype appropriately. “Low fidelity artefacts can significantly improve both elicitation and feedback. Polished, codified prototypes can create problems that prevent you from getting the benefits of communication.”

Why you should prototype

“Prototypes are visions of the future — some way of being able to see and experience the future of an idea [where doing so in words would fall short].” That’s how Josh Wexler described prototypes when he appeared on This is Product Management. Winston Christie-Blick expanded on that podcast episode and explained how you can start prototyping.

High-fidelity prototypes

Putting significant effort into building your prototype can yield many benefits. Doing this may require advanced design and engineering expertise and a deep understanding of frameworks that can be used to speed things along. But as a result, Marty Cagan says, you’ll get real user feedback, be forced think deeply about your product, be encouraged to better collaborate with your team and gain many other benefits.

Prototyping the right way

Deciding to use prototypes is one thing, doing it right is another. First, you should get comfortable with the types of prototype techniques that are available to you. You might use sketches, wireframes, interactive user interfaces or high-fidelity prototypes (more on that later). The Pidoco team has given some examples of different scenarios which call for different types of prototypes — internal communications, external feedback, requirements engineering and selling your ideas to decision-makers.

When to prototype a digital product

Alex Fedorov lists several situations when prototypes can be used, including validating a concept, achieving executive buy-in and reaching a shared understanding.

Why do product teams need to master rapid prototyping?

Leveraging a process in which a minimum viable product (MVP) is used to test a product idea is more complicated for enterprise Product Managers than it is for startup founders. But similar concepts involving iterative experiments and rapid prototyping can still be invaluable in larger companies. So says Nis Frome, adding that they can “marginalize user bias and inaccuracies” and help “evaluate and benchmark new product features iteratively”.