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Methods – Prototyping

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What it is:

The creation of a physical representation or model of a finished design for evaluation by users. A prototype can range from a quick mock-up in craft materials to test an initial concept to a more highly resolved artefact closer to production. Prototyping makes abstract ideas real, communicates concepts clearly and helps to reduce the risk of costly mistakes in the later stages of development – useful lessons can be learned with each new prototype. Users have a more direct and less ambiguous interaction with a prototype compared to verbal or illustrative descriptions of an idea, which can be open to misinterpretation.






Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High


A physical representation of a proposed design for evaluation prior to further development or manufacture

Best suited to:



Mid to later stages of the design process

Defining design direction and testing concepts

Quick and dirty evaluation with users through multiple iterations

Projects where stakeholders need to be convinced that the design is fit for purpose

Fixing specification en route to manufacture



Type of interaction:


Goes well with:

Intervention / Provocation, Empathy Tool, Design Probe

What designers say

‘A picture is worth a thousand words; a model, a thousand pictures’ – Ed Matthews


casestudy icon
Info-motion: adapting the car cockpit to future needs

Vehicle designer Serge Porcher created a believeable, full-scale car cockpit of the future using rear-projection screen technology to test new ideas about a more personal car interior.

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Power to the people: DIY tools made easier for all

Designer Matthew White created prototypes of sander and an electric screwdriver to test proof of concept with older people in their homes prior to fixing production specification.

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Indulgent bathing: beauty and ageing in the bathroom

Designer Tomek Rygalik created a full-sized prototype of a mirror and wash basin unit for manufacturer Ideal Standard to demonstrate older people’s needs in the bathroom info-motion: adapting the car cockpit to future needs

Read more

Background and further reading

The making of a prototype once fixed a product’s physical appearance and technical specification prior to manufacture. But in recent years the practice of rapid prototyping has moved this method from the back end of design development to support user research much earlier in the process. In the 1990s the design firm IDEO became a pioneer of building lots of quick, imperfect prototypes to test ideas on people. Today this practice has become engrained as the ability to make many and varied models makes it possible to involve users more closely and earlier during product development, involving people directly in the shaping process.

Myerson J. (2001) IDEO: Masters of Innovation. Laurence King

Snyder C. (2003) Paper Prototyping: The Fast and Easy Way to Design and Refine User Interfaces, Morgan Kaufmann

Warfel TZ. (2009) Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide. Rosenfeld Media