Prototypes are about product discovery and coming up with the fastest, cheapest way to test your assumptions.
But when people think of a "prototype," they tend to think of the first type of prototype they experienced.
However, there are actually four distinct types of prototypes, each suited for testing different assumptions.
1. Feasibility Prototypes
- For prototyping new technology (ex. updated algorithm).
- Engineer writes just enough code to see if it's feasible.
- Helps understand technical risk, often related to performance.
2. Low-fidelity User Prototypes
- Essentially an interactive wireframe (doesn't look real).
- Created by interactive designers to test the workflow.
- Simulates process to identify usability issues early.
3. High-fidelity User Prototypes
- Realistic looking, working simulation.
- Good for communicating a proposed product to stakeholders.
- Used in defensive user testing, not to see if they'll like it, but to learn if they won't.
4. Live-data Prototypes
- Very limited implementation created by developers to actually prove it works.
- Has access to real data and is sent real live traffic.
- Hasn't been "productized" (no test automation, SEO, localization, etc).
Summarized by Reforge. Original article by Marty Kagan • Partner @ Silicon Valley Product Group