The biggest risk facing every new online business isn’t running out of money, or failing to scale, it’s building something that no one wants. It’s easy to have ideas and get excited about the ways that you could brings these to life but few survive first contact with users without requiring radical changes. If you’ve already spent all your money on development at that point then you’re in trouble!

So how do you find out what people want without development? Prototyping!

Prototyping is nothing new, it’s been used when building physical products for decades. The idea is simple, get something rough in front of a customer quickly and use this to get feedback. From here you can iterate before committing to mass production.

People making physical products can prototype their inventions using Lego if they want something lo-fi. Now with the rise of 3D printing prototypes can resemble the end product in far more detail.

Online it’s much the same. You’re looking to get something in front of a user as early as possible to show the route your product or service might take. You can then use this to test with real people and find out what you got wrong.

A prototype can be a pencil sketch, a powerpoint presentation, a set of wireframes or something mocked up in Photoshop or Sketch and run through a tool like Invision. The basic rule is that it should only be as polished as it needs to be to get the feedback you want. While what you show to a customer may look like the real thing there will be very little going on behind the scenes. Our prototypes rarely have a single line of code behind them.

The benefit here is that you’ve spent far less time and money learning what works. Something that might have taken weeks or months to develop can be created in prototype form in days, if not hours. You could have an idea and be testing it by the end of the week.

Because you haven’t spent all your resources you remain flexible. Changes brought to light by customer feedback can be acted on rapidly with no need to undo development work. Not many businesses can afford waste and prototyping might just help you survive first contact with customers.

At Lighthouse we’ve worked with a wide range of clients introducing prototyping into their workflows to super-charge their development process. Empowering people to adopt this type of process gives them another tool in their belt when navigating the tricky world of product development. It can fit for a multitude of scenarios but we find it works particularly well with these groups:

  • Entrepreneurs testing the market with a new business idea.
  • Corporate businesses developing new innovative products.
  • Development teams defining the features on their roadmap.

We talk about our prototyping process, the Prototype Sprint, over on our site. We’re also talking about how we helped Headliner test some new features in their roadmap using a prototype.

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