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Developing an early version of a product to convey the look (form-appearance) and feel (function-behavior); can be static or dynamic in nature but is typically built quickly.

Session Length: 60+ minutes Group Size: 6+ people Prep Time: 60+ minutes


Prototyping generally takes place in the early to middle phase of a project, when the initial requirements and user needs have been documented but not fully validated. Prototyping can also be done in the late-middle phase, when performance requirements are well established but the form feature definition is still immature. This is a very inclusive tool, as it relies on using simple, inexpensive, readily-available materials to test and demonstrate new ideas.


Use a prototype to learn early in the process whether requirements are being met and to directly evaluate user interaction with a product to shape future design directions. Prototypes help developers:

  • Visualize requirements.
  • Evaluate design concepts.
  • Gather user and stakeholder inputs.
  • Observe user interaction.
  • Determine feasibility.
  • Make and prioritize design decisions.

Like Bodystorming, prototyping accelerates problem solving by reducing the time necessary to test and modify an idea. This practice also fosters adaptability, as the process is iterative and exploratory by its nature. It lets teams take chances with ideas and explore “risky designs” where the investment and exposure to loss is minimal, before committing to a final production design.


STEP 1: Identify a concept or idea.
STEP 2: Depending on the type of prototype (e.g., digital, hardware, paper), gather the necessary materials or resources. These should be materials that are easy to modify quickly, such as paperclips and cardboard.
STEP 3: Identify use cases or scenarios; focus on just a few tasks to start.
STEP 4: Begin building or coding the concept, including as much functionality as is necessary for your use cases.
STEP 5: Share the prototype with stakeholders, end users, and others to gather inputs on whether requirements are being met or need improvements.
STEP 6: Iterate until you have the first minimum viable product – then repeat as necessary.


In his book, The Circle of Innovation, Tom Peters offered similar guidance on how to do prototyping:

  1. Define a small, practical test in a page or less of text. Now.
  2. Gather “found” materials on the (very) cheap.
  3. Find a partner-customer who can provide a test site and act as a sounding board.
  4. Set a (very) tight deadline of five working days… or a little less… or a little more… for the next (practical) step.
  5. Conduct the test… ASAP.
  6. De-brief and record results in a notebook (electronic or spiral bound).
  7. Set the next test date… ASAP. (i.e. 5 days +/- hence.)

For some DoD-specific guidance on prototyping, check out the Department of Defense Prototyping Guidebook


Download this tool to print out and start using with your team. Each download includes a tool description and if applicable, a template and example.