Prototyping Methodology. Step 1 – Define


Attention: This is a super important step.

You may find yourself a little impatient (like I am when I get super excited about a new idea =) which happen about every hour =) and you probably want to jump right into prototyping, but before you do it, you have to answer several questions. The answers will guide your prototyping and testing efforts and can potentially save you a lot of time. And we both know how crucial time is for a startup.

1. Scope

  • Why do you want to prototype this? What are you trying to learn?
    • Do you have a new product idea and you want to validate a proof of concept?
    • Is it an enhancement that you want to run by your target audience before putting into next release?
    • You’ve identified a need for a new feature that your users want, and you want to understand where you should put the menu item for it, so people can find and use it.
    • One of the millions of other questions you may have.

Every prototype has to have a specific question (or several) that it is supposed to help clarify what you want to learn. Otherwise, what exactly you are trying to achieve with it?

2. Type

Vertical vs Horizontal.

Depending on the questions you define, you may need either vertical or horizontal prototype. Horizontal works better for broader learnings, like validating your overall startup idea. A vertical prototype is mostly used when you want to understand more low-level things, like a specific interaction pattern, or screen layout for your new feature. When you have an existing product that you are adding a new feature to, go with vertical.

For example, the first prototype version for one of my startups, I just sketched 4 screens on paper, 1 screen per section of the platform. That’s a horizontal prototype. And later, when I was working on defining and designing a new flow for upgrading the subscription plan. And even though the platform had many screens, I prototyped only a few that were needed for this specific flow. That’s a vertical prototype.

3. Fidelity/Level

This is a big topic by itself, and I will be writing more about various nuances of the dimensions and fidelity levels used in prototyping. In brief:

  • There are 3 fidelity levels: low-fidelity, medium-fidelity, and high-fidelity.
  • There are 3 dimensions of fidelities (if this makes sense): visual, functional, and content.
  • Any fidelity dimension may be of any level.

For example, the sketch you see below has low fidelity in all 3 dimensions (visual, functional, content), it’s more abstract. Visually – not even close to what the app will look like. Functional – not functioning at all, you will have to simulate the flow (if needed) by manually changing screens based on user interactions. Content – not real content, just lines to communicate the idea and visual hierarchy.

Low Fidelity Prototype Example

Usually, you start with low-fidelity prototypes at the beginning and increase the fidelity with further iterations.

4. Logistics

Questions you should answer:

  • Who are you testing with?
  • Where can you find them? (if you can)
  • How are you going to test it? Remotely or in-person? In an office or at where the user would likely use your app?
  • Will you be able to use a device with a screen?
  • Will you have the Internet connection where you will be testing?
  • What tools are you going to use?

For example, if you don’t have direct access to your users and will be testing remotely through an existing online usability testing tools, a paper prototype won’t be as valuable.

Read next: Step 2 – Prototype