Great ideas are amazing, but execution determines the winner. The prototype phase is a fundamental step of a startup design process. This is the moment when you need to get down to business and start making your dreams come true.

Prototyping is a topic that people relate to the startup universe, but this is not a new concept. The best way to start this conversation is by going back to the basics and checking the definition of a prototype. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is “the first example of something, such as a machine or other industrial product, from which all later forms are developed.” It’s simple, isn’t it?

A prototype might sound like something expensive and exclusive only for those with unrealistic budgets. But, this is not true! So, how can you manage to prototype your idea without spending all your money? Let’s find out throughout this article.

Why a Prototype is Key to the Startup Design Process?

Ideas can seem unique and easy to understand in our minds. But, it might not be the same when we try to show how something works only using words. If you are able to explain how your product works, it’ll be much easier to sell your idea. Thus, you need to understand the importance of prototyping on a startup design process.

Zaid Haque, Microsoft Senior Program Manager, and Design Mentor at EIA, explains that prototyping “helps us get a better sense of what we are building, and helps communicate it to designers/engineers/investors.”. According to Zaid it also “helps us conduct quick research with our customers to see if we’re addressing the right problem and if we are addressing it in the right way”.

A prototype is the best tool to test the functionality of your idea. It’s all about using visual resources to describe how a product, service, or system work. It’s also the smartest way to think about product design.

Creating a Prototype Without Spending Money: A Step-by-step Guide

There are different kinds of prototypes. Each of them related to the business segmentation, maturity, and the available budget. Nevertheless, the first steps of prototyping are similar for most startups.

Building a product can be expensive, but prototyping can help you save money. By understanding what works and what doesn’t, you can improve your prototype. When the time to develop your product comes, you’ll already know what needs to be done.

Creating a paper prototype means you can explain how your idea will work without going penniless or burning your brain while you try to learn how to code. A paper prototype is a great way to visualize your ideas in a very tangible way. To deliver the best prototype, you need to follow some steps:

1. Crazy 8’s

Everyone has a different view on what is important. Designers will think about the form, developers will consider function, and corporate managers will focus on costs. Crazy 8’s is a core designing sprint method that can help your team to find out different and great ideas for your prototype.

The exercise is simple but effective. Each participant folds a blank sheet of paper in half, four times, in order to get eight panels. Then, one by one will draw eight sketches with their ideas about the product design and its usability. You have five minutes in total, which means 40 seconds per sketch. This crazy and fast is a great way to crank out variations of ideas quickly.


Prototype: how to brainstorm your idea
A real example of a Crazy 8’s exercise developed during previous EIA edition.

2. Storyboarding

What would happen if you had to write a TV show episode about how your product/app/service works? Just thinking about how to create this narrative that explains how it would solve people’s problems will help you see your idea from a different perspective.

Prototype: how to create a storyboard

Storyboarding is nothing but sketching an actual situation. It must cover how users actually find your solution. The storyboard shows when and how to use your product. Don’t forget to consider each step and future behaviours. Once you finish your storyboard you can start building your paper prototype.

3. Creating a paper prototype

At this point, you’ll probably be excited to get things done, which is great. But, you might need caution to prevent you from overthinking the design of your paper prototype.

Paper prototyping: EIA

Your prototype must be easy to understand. Use markers and post-its to create anything it takes to lay out your screen as simply as possible. By that, your user will touch a fake button on your paper, and you carry out the designated interaction.

Zaid Haque suggests that while prototyping, you need to always ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are my customers?
  • Am I solving my customers’ problems?
  • Am I making it easy?
  • Am I making it enjoyable?

“Use those answers to help generate further, more detailed prototypes, and keep working on the cycle until you can tell your customers love using your product!” Zaid affirmed.

Validating your Prototype

You’ll probably feel terrified, but feedback is your best friend. When you ask for other people’s opinion, you get the chance to see if your idea is working. At this point, you need to know if you’re able to solve your customer’s problems in an easy and enjoyable way.

To get the best feedback, you need someone to play with the prototype. You need to watch the person’s reaction very closely. If possible, video record it so you can analyze all interactions afterwards.

Pay attention to every single movement. Reaction and facial expressions will tell you a lot about what the person thinks of your prototype.

After collecting all this information, it’s time to consider adapting your solution, either removing or adding features, based on feedback to step ahead on your startup design process.

Ready to prototype for real? Join EIA this summer and bring your idea to life.