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Prototype vs. MVP - What is better to choose for idea validation?

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Prototypes and Minimum Viable Products, later as MVPs, are a critical part of product development. Of course, you can dive right in, spend months and months developing an expensive product … only to find that at launch, nobody wants it.

Or that you have built it completely wrong or you could have built something much better if you would adjust or modify it halfway through. What you can learn from it is that without proper testing of your ideas, your probability to fail is much higher.

That’s where MVPs and prototypes come into play!

They help you find your product-market fit, get stakeholder and user feedback, and start getting people excited about your upcoming launch. They are also a great communication tool between you and your designers- or tech teams, and they help you to have a better understanding of what it is that you are building.

What is a prototype?

A prototype is a static or interactive mockup of an app designed to look and feel like the real thing. They are much quicker to make, and although they don’t include all the expected features, they allow you to spot mistakes before you build the real thing.

A prototype can be as simple as sketches on paper (low fidelity prototype) or as interactive as a clickable, digital model that works on your phone (high fidelity prototype). It can illustrate one key screen, a complex flow, or all the key features of an app. And it can be created with or without code.

The goal of a prototype is to represent and demonstrate an app's fundamental design and function without being fully functional. It is typically used in user interviews to get feedback from real users.

A user’s reactions and responses while using a prototype will help validate if your app is on the right track. From a point of view of either an idea or a design.

Let’s take Airbnb as an example.

They might have made a prototype of what the process would look like to book a stay on their platform and used it in user interviews to generate a reaction from potential users.

A prototype is what happens when you give form to your product idea. It’s something tangible, it is not just an idea in your head.

Prototypes can vary in size regarding how much time and effort you put into them. It might be a simple sketch on paper or it might be something more functional and interactive. Depending on your skill level, you can make your prototype as complicated or as simple as you like.

The main benefit of a prototype is that it helps you to communicate with your design- and engineering teams. You need to show them what to build.

What is an MVP?

An MVP, or a minimum viable product, is the simplest version of your app that was released publicly to gain feedback from your first set of users. It focuses just on the core features that offer value but is lacking in all the added and attractive features.

It is similar to a prototype except it is fully functional with minimal features and released to a private group of users or the public. It is helpful for gaining feedback on your app but with additional insight into usage which can not be observed with just a prototype in a user interview.

A number of well known apps of today actually started their journeys as an MVP. Only after hitting the market did they experience significant changes, they made successful pivots, and ended up where they are today.

For example, Airbnb initially offered a platform where you could book an air mattress, but only to the people visiting San Francisco for a design conference.

Let’s imagine the following situation:

If someone needs transportation between Point A and Point B, and they are not sure about how to get there, what would be the first thing you would give them? It wouldn’t be a Tesla, right? You would most probably give them a skateboard or a scooter. You would get their feedback that they want something motorized, so you would get them a motorbike. And again, you get their feedback that even though the motorbike does the job, they want something waterproof, with some kind of entertainment system. So eventually you give them a car with a built-in radio.

Without testing, getting their feedback and understanding what works for them and what doesn’t, you might have given them a skateboard with a Nintendo strapped to the front instead.

They can move from Point A to Point B and they also have an entertainment system.

Would it be successful?

This is the role of an MVP in the product development process.

What is the difference?

It can get confusing to see the difference between prototypes and MVPs. While they both help validate your app idea, the purpose they serve and how they are approached are fundamentally different.

Take a look at the following image to see the differences between them.

How to know what to choose?

The toughest part is creating the wrong thing at the wrong time. And wasting time can be the most frustrating thing when developing an app. Knowing when to create a prototype and when an MVP comes down to two key questions:

1. Have you already validated if the problem you are trying to solve actually exists?

If the answer to this question is no, you should first consider accomplishing user interviews and creating a prototype to use in those interviews as a visual help for your idea. Before you create anything, you need to determine if this is a problem people have and if your solution is what they expect or wait for.

2. Have you already got feedback on the design of your solution?

If the answer to this question is no, then you might want to consider creating a clickable prototype and the design mockups in order to perform usability interviews. A usability interview is similar to a user interview. However, the goal of a usability interview is to determine if users find your app easy to navigate and use.

If you have answered both questions with a ‘yes’, then you are ready to create an MVP.

. . .

Tips for building your prototype or MVP?

Knowing the difference between the two of them, maybe you think about how to build one. The resources and data you will need are different for each, however, there are some rules that you can apply, no matter what you decide to build.

  • The customer is always first

Many of the world’s most successful companies credit their customer-focus as the secret to building winning products. The goal of your product is to provide value, so be sure to focus on who you are building for.

  • Data matter

You don’t have to be a data scientist but the numbers should definitely matter to you. You might not have a detailed data set if you are building your first product ever, but thinking about what data you want to collect from your prototype or MVP will help you later in the development process.

  • Forget about what you want

You might really love your prototype or MVP but if no one else does, success will disappear quickly. The only thing that you can expect if you launch something nobody wants, is failure. Sad but true!

  • Start building ASAP

You can perfect your prototype before committing to an MVP. You can also spend months working and reworking your MVP before you feel ready to launch it. But if you really want to build products, eventually it’s time to let go and let people see them. Keep the balance between creating part and the real user feedback.

. . .

Do you need help to make a decision about what is the best for your business?

Do you prefer to hire a professional to help you with the development to ensure a successful product?

Before you start the hiring process, make sure you know the 8 important steps to hire an IT contractor so you find one that will understand your company spirit and help you reach your goal.


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