Do the Advantages of Prototyping Outweigh Prototyping Disadvantages?

Innovation is a long and nonlinear process. The idea of transforming everyone’s hard work into something tangible is as irresistible as that last jelly donut we found in the break room this morning! Although the advantages of prototyping often speak for themselves, prototyping disadvantages can be trickier to anticipate. Let's explore everything innovation managers should consider before prototype planning.

An Overview of Prototyping

Prototyping methods vary from industry to industry, but many pros and cons are universal. Below, we’ll cover a few of the most common prototyping methods. Then, stay tuned to examine the advantages and disadvantages of each one. If you aren’t sure which prototyping method to pursue yet, we are here to help. So go check your break room for any more jelly donuts and follow along as we dive into prototyping.

Visual Prototyping

Visual prototyping represents the appearance of something but lacks the functionality of the real thing. People use visual prototyping to conceptualize things like architectural plans or proposed design patterns. Visual prototyping is often used to gain a better perspective of spatial reasoning for large projects—such as the layout of an amusement park or the style of an automobile. 

Examples of Visual Prototyping:

  • Mockups
  • Diagrams
  • Virtual reality (VR)

Functional Prototyping

In stark contrast, functional prototyping tests whether or not the project is performing as expected. Typically, this prototyping method will follow the original design plan to ensure that all components work well together and fit properly. However, it is likely to lack the visual attributes that the previous form of prototyping includes. Imagine the first prototype for the Snuggie. It was likely uglier and less comfortable, but it tested its most important feature—the wearability of a blanket with sleeves.

Examples of Functional Prototyping:

  • Storyboards
  • Pilots

Horizontal Prototyping

Horizontal prototypes adequately resemble a user's experience with the finished product or service. To simulate user experience meaningfully, both the functionality and visual attributes must be close enough to represent the final product accurately. It may not be fully operational, but it should serve as a launchpad for the design and anticipated performance. For example, a horizontal prototype of a website may have navigation menus but lack the URLs the menu is supposed to transport you to. It should display the intended functions without implementing them fully. 

Examples of Horizontal Prototyping:

  • Wireframes
  • Simulations

Vertical Prototyping

You’ve likely deduced by this point that vertical prototypes are the counterpart to horizontal prototypes. If not, it might be time for that second cup of coffee (but maybe skip the jelly donut this time). While you pour up, we’ll clarify a few of the differences between horizontal and vertical prototyping:

  • Vertical prototyping focuses on critical functionality.
  • Simulates UX but emphasizes improving the structure or functionality rather than design elements. For example, back-end development takes precedence in a vertical prototype of software. 

Example of Vertical Prototyping:

  • Working models
  • Frameworks

Advantages of Prototyping

It can be challenging to discuss the advantages of prototyping while remaining inclusive to a wide range of industries. With that in mind, we laid the groundwork above to serve as a reference for applying the information below. Neat, huh? Enough about us—let’s explore the advantages of prototyping in your business:

  • Easy and early error detection - Finding potential defects is one of the most significant advantages of prototyping. In many cases, the proposed design of a project may not be compatible with its necessary functionality. In the prototyping stage, companies must be one thing, if nothing else—adaptable.
  • Reusable findings - This point can be tough to describe inclusively because it depends on your innovation processes. When creating a prototype, you may discover alternate applications of your idea or some aspect of your idea. The data you collect throughout one prototyping process can be used to draw conclusions or make predictions regarding another. For example, developers building an application may create test cases that they can reuse for software projects in the future. 
  • Earlier involvement of potential consumers - Feedback is vital to the innovation process. Prototyping allows companies to collect feedback earlier in development rather than post-release when change becomes difficult or even impossible to implement. A fantastic example of this advantage in action is the movie adaptation of the classic video game Sonic the Hedgehog.

Releasing Sonic’s original design for the movie led to harsh internet criticism. Sonic fans were shocked and dismayed at the strange, humanistic version of their beloved hedgehog, and rightfully so. It was an abomination. Thankfully, the creators listened to consumer feedback and redesigned the character. The Sonic movie went on to become one of the highest-grossing video game film adaptations ever. 

How to Take Advantage of the Advantages

Sometimes, the failure to adapt is the only thing that stands in the way of innovation. Accepting and assimilating feedback is essential, no matter how revolutionary your project may seem as is. The now-defunct Theranos is an excellent demonstration of what happens when you fail to utilize the advantages of prototyping. For those who missed the hype (and inevitable documentary), Theranos was a compact medical device meant to run rapid blood tests. 

Early on, engineers prototyping the device claimed the design was too tiny to fit everything it needed to function accurately. Unfortunately, creator Elizabeth Holmes was unwilling to make the necessary design changes. The business failed for many reasons, but the fact that their device didn’t even work has to be in the top three. Who knows where the company could have ended up had they taken their prototype findings into consideration.

Prototyping Disadvantages

Prototyping disadvantages are often more difficult to discern than their positive counterparts. This isn’t exactly a testament to their mild impact. It's more like a side-effect of many people's rose-colored glasses during the innovation process. It’s important to familiarize yourself with prototyping disadvantages, even if you’ve already decided to proceed with prototyping. The following drawbacks will help you build an innovation process that mitigates their effects.

  • Cost - Some say nothing in this world is free. When it comes to innovation management, we’d have to agree. No matter which method you choose, prototyping can be a costly endeavor. Aside from material costs, you’re likely to need expertise outside the scope of your company. Cutting a few corners here and there can help, but make sure your processes don’t sacrifice ESG standards in the name of cost-efficiency.
  • Consumer expectations - This issue arises when companies publicize their prototypes to either attract attention or gather feedback from an external source. Although publicizing your prototype can unlock the door to valuable input, it can also put pressure on your release timeline. Building anticipation for your project is excellent for marketing. Still, it may pose a problem if you encounter any setbacks throughout development. 

Pro tip: You will encounter setbacks, so plan accordingly.

  • Confusion over fluctuating demand - In some cases, collaborators may be too keen on bending to the pressure of current demands. Most industries experience a fair amount of fluctuations, so handling them with grace throughout your prototyping process is essential. It’s best to keep your head in the game with a solid innovation plan that leaves room for necessary adjustments but not enough to change the core idea.

How to Weave Prototyping into Your Innovation Process

rready helps businesses maximize the advantages of prototyping by setting them up for success right from the beginning. We address prototyping disadvantages before they arise through meticulously planned methodology, supportive tools and technology, and employee engagement exercises that break the ice on collaboration. Check out this Swisscom case study to learn more about rready’s impact on innovation.

rready to launch your prototyping plans? We’re here to help. We have been helping companies of all sizes manage their innovation plans for years, and we are excited to help you too. Contact us today for more information.

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