The Prototype Stage in Design Thinking: Purpose & Importance

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

The Prototype stage in design thinking offers a quick and inexpensive way to get a model to consumers for testing. In this lesson, you'll learn more about this stage and the four purposes it serves.

Apple's Prototype

When the first Apple Watch became available to the public in April 2015, it was a much smaller version than the prototype, or model, the company first tested. In fact, the first prototype of the Apple Watch was actually a full-sized iPhone with a velcro strap attached to it.

What better way to test the features and functionalities the company wanted to include? It was a quick, cheap and effective option that gave them immediate feedback and results so they could refine the watch's actual design and usability.

Apple used an iPhone as the first prototype of its Apple Watch.
prototype, stage, apple, watch, iPhone, design, thinking

Creating a prototype - whether hands-on, digitized or even on paper - gives end users a product they can experience. For developers, it provides valuable commentary from testers and opportunities to observe reactions and body language the design team can use to refine the final product.

In design thinking, a solution-oriented approach to consumer problems, it occupies its own stage in the process - known, logically, as the Prototype stage.

What's Up With the Prototype Stage?

In the design thinking process, you pass through three stages, Empathize, Define, and Ideate, before arriving at the subject of this lesson, the Prototype stage.

The prototype stage is when you create a model designed to solve consumers' problems or validate ideas you can test in the next stage of the process. The prototype, as we see in the Apple example above, should be quick, cheap and easy. Why? Because it only needs to be functional enough for users to handle or explore it, but not so expensive or timely that it becomes a massive undertaking.

Think about prototypes as primitive forms of what you envision the final product to be. A drawing, something pulled together on paper, a digital representation or even a prototype printed by a 3D printer can all serve as an adequate example of the product you've imagined. It wouldn't make much sense to create a final version without knowing what tweaks or changes need to be made, right? That would take a lot of time to design and build, not to mention potentially a lot of money. A prototype allows you to build a scaled-down example of the product you're considering so you can gauge testers' reactions, thoughts, and interactions with the item.

The importance of this stage is in building something that can be tested in the next and final stage of the design thinking process. The feedback received is critical for refining a final product that will be a good fit for the market. The prototype stage allows the design team to explore and perfect their solutions to the problems identified early on in a quick and cost-effective manner.

Prototypes and Purpose

There are a few very specific purposes the Prototype stage fulfills, namely:

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