Prototyping: How to Test, Validate, and Present Your Idea

by S. Creastam

A product’s cycle from creation to rebirth is usually associated with a life cycle assessment. Thinking of so many factors that you are not certain about can be like trying to plan a trip without choosing a destination. You can give yourself a general idea of what you want, but nothing with enough detail to actually be relevant. This is why it’s important to decide on the destination first, or in this case, the solution for your idea.

Ideas are unpredictable sometimes. You have a solution you think is the best fit for a problem until you see all the extra pieces of the issue you didn’t notice. Extra bits of information often come from what you learn after you take action. When you break it down, action can be any effort you make to confirm if your idea is actually going to survive reality.

Social entrepreneurs commonly start off with ideation and validation to refine their solutions. It makes sense. You think through the idea, and then you seek external evidence that the idea is useful. After ideation and validation, you need a step that will bring your solution into reality. At least a test version of it. That process is called prototyping.

What is prototyping?

Prototyping is the process of building an example of a product for tests or presentations. In this process, you think of the resources to pull together for a solution to work. You go through a sequence of getting clear on your idea all the way to making the representation of your physical or digital product.

Mock products you end up with at the end of the prototyping process are called a prototype. In social entrepreneurship, you may consider this as an MVP (minimal viable product). The terms prototype and MVP hold little difference. If there was any separation between the two, it’d be that the MVP for a solution is meant to be tested and may be an incomplete solution (in other words, it can focus on testing a specific aspect of a solution without being the full-featured version).

Originally, the replica you create gives you the ability to find flaws or showcase usability. Example products still carry that same role, and eventually became a tool to earn rapid feedback from an audience. The prototyping process is not only for you and your team to examine, it’s a chance to hear what the stakeholders of your issue think about the possible solution.

What are the steps to prototyping?

You can go through the prototyping process on your own or with your team. It all depends on what resources you plan to use while building this mock version of your product.

1. Organize ideas for clarity

We can have so many ideas at once. Our minds are filled with add-ons and features we’d like for our product. So many ideas can be beautiful, but also distracting.

We want to narrow down what our solution looks like. Ask yourself questions about what is necessary and what is not necessary for you to see the first version of your solution. Alongside that, this stage is where you can organize customer research as a prototype guide. It’ll help you cut down on the excess keeping you from making your idea more solid.

2. Draw up a draft with important notes

Speaking of a mock solution, a visual representation makes ideas seem more lifelike. You can provide an image, a sketch, or a graphic. It doesn’t need to be extremely detailed or hi-tech (if you can then go for it, but it’s not required).

Make sure to include any special notes that others need to know for them to understand your draft image. You can point out dimensions or materials used. Don’t forget to keep the notes organized, otherwise, the draft could confuse people.

3. Create the trial version of your idea (prototype/ MVP)

Time to get your hands on the real mock product. You finally gather your materials and tools to assemble your solution. This is a task you can do alone, do with a team, or outsource if needed. An example of when you would need to outsource is any product with materials that require a specific skill set to handle, such as chemicals, woodwork, or code.

Never cram the creation process if you can help it. Ideally, you want time to build out your trial version. Give yourself a buffer for any mistakes or mishaps that occur along the way.

4. Revisit any desired changes

More often than not, your first trial version is not what you’ll move forward with as a final product. You learn a lot during prototyping, and you get the extra layer of feedback.

Make note of desired changes now that you know a little more about how your solution plays out in real life. Honestly, not all changes need to come from a product flaw. Let’s say your stakeholders enjoy your solution, but you haven’t worked out a proper profit margin on the materials. You can find a different set of materials, rerun the prototyping process, and test if the new mock product receives the same enthusiastic response.

Your Turn!

Ideas are unpredictable sometimes, but you can handle any pivot if you’re open to learning. The prototyping process is a journey of discovery. Well, there might be some fumbles while you make your way to the mock product. It’s part of the epic story you’ll tell to your fellow social entrepreneurs later.

By the way, keep a record of your prototyping process. You never know when you’ll need to reference something, or if something that happened will be an answer to a problem further down the path. One of the biggest pieces of leverage you can have in any solution is data, including feedback or metrics you gather while building out your solution. Archiving your learnings helps you cultivate a personal resource of information.

It’s your turn to prototype your solution. Here is a quick review of the prototyping process:

  1. Organize ideas for clarity.
  2. Draw up a draft with important notes.
  3. Create the trial version of your idea (prototype/ MVP).
  4. Revisit any desired changes.

Start working out your idea! If you need recommendations on innovative materials to include in your product, you can check out our list of 25 sustainable materials and refresh your knowledge about sustainable product design. We can’t wait to see what you create.

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