A prototype is not an end in itself but a means to an end – the validation of your idea.

– Professor Karl T. Ulrich, Harvard Business School


Creating Physical Goods

According to Professors Karl T. Ulrich and Steven D. Eppinger, in their 2015 book “Product Design and Development” there are two focused and comprehensive prototypes.

A focused prototype reflects just one or a few dimensions of the performance of the product being developed. It can be referred to as a test rig or a mock-up.

A comprehensive prototypes are fully functioning products, which goes through successive refinement and often goes by the term ‘’proof of concept, alpha, beta, pre-production, etc.’’ They go through cycles that help the team achieve milestones and demonstrate progress.

Prototypes of physical goods are useful for the following reasons:

  • A tool for


  • Solving problems
  • Answering the question “do you have product-market fit?”
  • Proof that the solution works technically
  • Proof of user acceptance and customer adoption
  • Visual communication of your idea
  • Demonstration of your ability to implement the solution

Creating Software

Practical steps for building a software prototype include:

  • Gather user requirements: Interact with the user and discover his needs and demands
  • Develop an initial prototype that is static and of low/medium fidelity: An example of this initial prototype could be a hand-drawn sketch or a visual tool such as Microsoft Word, Photoshop, Visio, or PowerPoint
  • Get initial feedback: Share this prototype with users and get feedback
  • Develop an interactive prototype of medium to high fidelity: An example of this interactive prototype could be produced from wireframing tools like Azure, Balsamiq, and OmniGraffle
  • Get feedback and iterate: Continue to get feedback on the product and pivot or change the prototype in line with the user’s requirements
  • Proceed to development

Creating Services

The approach for creating a prototype for a service business is often called the “Wizard of Oz” approach. This entails providing the front-end of the service digitally and delivering the back-end of the service manually.

This is not usually very capital-intensive. There is usually no need to work with third parties to develop the full product, as the delivery of the service can be done in-house.

An example could be a landing page, or a blog post describing the product. It could be used to test user responses through sign-ups, expressions of interest, etc.

Action Steps

Test your idea by creating a prototype in any of the following forms:

  • Physical Goods
  • Software
  • Services