Approaches to Building Prototypes

In the last post I discussed why you want to prototype and the progression of prototypes from early stage to later stage prototypes. Within these stages, there are a number of approaches you can take to prototyping, with projects sometimes utilizing a number of them as ideas are refined.  They can include:


  • Sketches– this can literally be rough drawings on pieces of paper that give a high-level sense of what you’re thinking. They can be used to gather early feedback from a small group of target clients.
  • Models– this can mean many things depending on the type of product. If you are working on a physical product, it could be something modeled with cardboard or clay, for example.
  • Wireframes– a wireframe draws out the basics of a website’s or app’s pages and how those pages flow, with little to no consideration for the actual end design
  • Low fidelity mock-ups– this is still fairly light on design details, but can include things like a “clickable prototype”, a.k.a. one that mimics clicking through an app for example
  • High fidelity mock-ups– this is getting closer to the final product, and likely incorporates some elements of design. This is typically left for the late stages of prototyping when you’ve already received a good amount of customer feedback to confirm your idea is addressing the target clients’ needs.


While it is not necessary to go through every kind of prototype during your product’s design, it is helpful to go through iterations as you receive feedback from your target clients. This will help ensure you have understood the feedback you’ve received and can lead to additional insights.  Later stage prototypes are input to designers and developers to accelerate (a.k.a. lower the cost) of design and programming activities.

Early Stage Prototypes

Sketches, Models, and Wireframes can be grouped into the category of early stage prototypes.  You don’t need anything special to generate these – they can be drawn on pieces of paper, or you can even create them using Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides. Here are some examples of these kinds of prototypes:


Written by Andreas Zapletal  on behalf of  Open People Network

This article is part of a 3 part series, check out Prototyping for Free and Building Your Free Prototype