Prototype Testing: A Product Manager’s Trump Card

Prototype testing is the process of testing an early version of your product with various hypotheses. Learn to validate your design and gather feedback before your product goes into production.

Godi Yeshaswi
October 6, 2023
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Did you know developers spend 25-50% of their time fixing bugs and issues? This refers to the maintenance phase of any product development lifecycle, and addressing issues in the code can potentially result in more extended detection and resolution times.

Also, it is 100 times more expensive to fix a problem in a product in the later stages of product development than in the initial stages. Don’t wait until the whole product/feature is coded. Test early; test regularly!

Irrespective of your business size, whether a well-established enterprise or a startup, building new products/features comes with a set of challenges. There are a lot of questions that need practical answers:

  • What are the key features and functionalities users expect?
  • How intuitive is the user interface?
  • How easy/difficult do users find it to complete a task?

Despite functioning at a large scale, enterprises still face a lot of backlash while launching their product. Many businesses are smart enough to identify these problems in the initial stage and solve them using testing methods such as prototype testing.

Follow along if you want to know more about the user testing prototype.

What is a Prototype?

A prototype is an early version or a design mock-up of a product or feature used to test its design and functionality before it is produced or released. It is a simplified representation of the final product created to display key features and identify design flaws as well as usability challenges.

What is Prototype Testing?

Prototype testing is one of the most helpful pre-launch testing techniques used by product managers and UX designers. It helps to identify and rectify the problems in the product before launching it to a larger audience. Prototype user testing allows you to revise and resolve issues at any stage. This will help in launching products and releasing new features which are first tested and accepted by the users.


What are the Different Types of Prototypes?

There are 3 types of prototypes, which vary depending on your product’s stage and design. Let’s dive deeper into each type:

Low-fidelity (lo-fi)

A low-fidelity (lo-fi) prototype is like a rough draft of your product idea. It is as simple as a paper sketch or a 3D model. This prototyping stage aims to test ideas and see if they make sense to the end users.

For example, only CTAs like “Buy” and “Like” might be functional, but the rest do not need to work. The product description and text could also be a rough draft.

Lo-fi prototypes are used in the initial stages of product design to make sure that the product is on the right track. This helps save time and money as the product is still in the early stages, and any mistake can be rectified without wasting resources.

What questions does this prototype answer?

  • Does the layout of my design make sense?
  • Which version of my product makes more sense to the user?
  • How well is the user interacting?

Medium-fidelity (mid-fi)

A medium-fidelity (mid-fi) prototype helps users understand product functions and features in depth. It's useful for path testing and gathering feedback.

Users can click on all the CTAs and interact with the product by testing specific user journeys. Important pages will have the final text and design elements for the user to judge.

Creating a mid-fi prototype takes more time and effort than a low-fi prototype, as it is one step closer to the final design.

What questions does this prototype answer?

  • Do the user paths match expectations?
  • How is the interaction compared to the previous prototype?
  • Does the product design work well?

High-fidelity (hi-fi)

A high-fidelity (hi-fi) prototype is closer to the end product and can be expensive. This prototype is fully functional, with all the CTAs, text, and menus that users will interact with in the final version.

The final design prototype test, including fonts and colors, can be assessed. However, it is optional to include all planned features; some interactions might still need work.

Hi-fi prototypes are used for usability testing and ensuring everything works smoothly before the product is officially launched.

What questions does this prototype answer?

  • How well does the user understand the path and design of my new feature?
  • Is it easy to complete user tasks?
  • Does the copy add value to the UX?

Why is Prototype Testing Important?

Thorough testing is crucial and vital if you want to develop a product that meets the needs of your target audience. Prototype tests collect practical insights that help rectify mistakes and give the best outcome for your final product. There are a lot of benefits that testing a prototype offers; let’s dive deeper into the top 4:

Reduces cost and saves time:

Compared to post-launch, a product might be fixed quickly and easily while still being tested, as it will take a lot of effort and money to undo and redo. It could harm the company's resources as well as its reputation. Prototype testing offers a chance to rectify the mistakes before making the product live.

Makes your product user-friendly:

Beta users get the first glimpse of the product during the prototype testing stage before anyone else on the market. This is a chance for the company and the developers to engage users with the product and make it more user-friendly before launching it to a broader audience.

Gathers insights:

By testing prototypes, product managers can gather insights on usability, design, UX, accessibility, ideas, and concepts.

Resolves conflicts:

A group of qualified and trained developers may face many situations where some people think a particular implementation is appropriate, and others may have different opinions. Developers can develop multiple feature iterations and benchmark the resulting performance by testing the prototypes. Depending on the test, they can determine which feature gets the best response from users.


What are the Challenges When Testing a Prototype?

Lack of visual design:

Wireframes and other low-fidelity prototypes are basic, which can distract users. They may comment on the need for additional design and color, which will divert them from the objective of the test.

How to overcome this?

At the beginning of the session, ensure that the user is aware that the prototype they will view is in the early stages of development. It may look or feel differently than they may anticipate. The researcher should clearly express that the session's focus is not visual design.

Partial journeys:

Prototypes usually cover only partial user journeys. The users may have to be dropped into a journey at a certain point and need more context for the overall task.

How to overcome this?

Provide context to the user at the beginning and mid-journey by creating tasks.

Security concerns:

Users consider security necessary, and prototypes may appear less safe as they are still in the early stages of development. Users may be asked to enter personal details during the testing, which can cause users to become nervous and refuse to enter details.

How to overcome this?

Ensure the users feel safe by assuring that the data entered will not be stored, saved, or used to contact them. Another way around it could be to provide them with dummy details if they are uncomfortable entering their personal information.

Frustrated users:

Since it is just a prototype, many buttons are not clickable, which frustrates the user. This would hinder the testing process as the users would look for a way to click the button rather than looking for a way forward.

How to overcome this?

While introducing the test to the user, ensure that the few buttons are unclickable, which would function in the following prototype testing stage.

When to Conduct Prototype Testing?

Prototype testing is an important part of the product development process, and it is usually done after the creation of the preliminary version of the product. Prototype testing depends on the project and where the product is in the development stage.

Here are some examples of when the prototype testing should be conducted:

  • During Initial Design: Prototype testing is practical when developing the initial design concepts. It helps refine the ideas before committing time and resources to the final product.
  • After Major Design Changes: If there are any significant changes to the product's design, prototype testing can help assess how these changes impact functionality and usability.
  • When Adding New Features: When introducing new features or functionalities, prototype testing allows us to gauge their usefulness and effectiveness.
  • Identifying Usability Issues: Conducting prototype usability testing can help you catch and address usability issues before they become more serious.
  • When User Feedback is Needed: Whenever you require input from users or stakeholders to ensure that your product aligns with their needs and expectations, prototype testing becomes useful.

Prototype testing should be an ongoing process, happening early and at various stages of development. It ensures that the final product is user-friendly, effective, and well-received by the target audience.

How to Test a Prototype?

• Have a clear understanding of what you are testing for beforehand

• Define the objective of the prototype test

• Evaluate and pick the right research tool

• Create the prototype using UX design tools like Figma

• Recruit the users for testing, which should resemble your target audience

• Pick a suitable testing method to give appropriate results

• Set the context with the users before giving them access to the product/design

• Phrase the survey questionnaire in the right way that gives answers to the questions you have

• Launch the test

• Share the results with respective teams in your organization, so they have real-time access to the insights

• Continuous follow-up with the users for feedback


Prototype Testing with Qatalyst

Qatalyst offers a test block feature that allows users to conduct prototype testing. It is a type of testing that involves evaluating a preliminary version of a product to identify design flaws and gather feedback from users or stakeholders. You can upload a prototype of your website or mobile app, define the design flow, test it on respondents, and gather responses.

Journey Paths:

Defined Path:

A defined path is a predetermined sequence of steps or actions a user can follow to complete a specific task or goal within the prototype. However, Qatalyst allows you to define multiple paths for the different screens. The start screen will be the same, and the user can change the end screen of the test. The user can define multiple paths between the end and start screens.

When to use?

If you have pre-determined navigation paths for your prototype, using a defined path allows you to assess which path is most convenient or preferred by users. This helps you understand which specific path users choose among the available options.

Exploratory Path:

In this path type, while creating the research, the user can define the start and end screen, and while taking the test, the respondents navigate from different screens to reach the endpoint. Using this technique, you can identify if participants can finish an activity effectively, the time needed to accomplish a task, and adjustments necessary to increase user performance and happiness and examine the performance to determine if it satisfies your usability goal.

When to use?

Choose an exploratory path when you want to test whether the respondents are able to navigate between the screens and are able to complete the given task and gather information about users' natural behavior and preferences. This approach encourages users to freely explore the prototype and interact with it based on their own instincts and preferences. It can reveal unexpected insights and usage patterns that may have yet to be accounted for in predefined paths.


What are the Best Practices While Using Different Prototype Testing Methods?

Here are some best practices to consider when conducting prototype testing:

Define clear testing objectives: Clearly define the objectives of the test, including what features or functionalities will be tested and who the target audience or user group is.

  • Use realistic scenarios: Create real scenarios for users to use the prototype to replicate how they would use the final product in real-life situations.
  • Recruit representative participants: Recruit participants who represent the target audience or user group and have the knowledge, experience, and skills necessary to provide meaningful feedback.
  • Use multiple testing methods: Use various testing methods, including surveys, interviews, and observation, to collect data from participants and get a complete picture of their experience with the prototype.
  • Create a comfortable testing environment: For participants who feel at ease and can focus on the tasks without distractions.
  • Document and analyze feedback: Document the input collected during prototype testing to identify patterns and themes and specific design flaws or usability issues.
  • Refine and iterate: Incorporate the feedback into the prototype's design and revamp it, conducting multiple rounds of prototype testing as needed until the final product meets the desired level of usability and functionality.

Frequently Asked Prototype Testing Questions

What are the four steps of testing a prototype?

  • Understand and define the objective
  • Pick the right research tool and create a prototype on UX design tools
  • Recruit the right users who resemble your target audience
  • Pick a suitable method and launch the test

What is the purpose of creating a prototype?

Prototype testing helps ensure your product works as intended and solves your users’ problems before you start coding. User feedback on your prototype gives you insights that help improve the idea while making those changes is still accessible. It allows you to revise and resolve issues at any stage, which will help you launch products and release new features widely tested and accepted by the users.

What is an example of a prototype?

A prototype is an early version or a design mock-up of a product or feature used to test its design and functionality before it is produced or released. It is a simplified representation of the final product created to illustrate key features and identify design flaws.

What is the difference between prototype testing and final testing?

Prototypes are initial versions designed for testing and perfecting the design and functionality. In contrast, final products are fully developed and polished versions of the product ready for release and usage. Prototypes are about exploration and gathering feedback, while final products are about full functionality and ensuring a good user experience.

The difference between a prototype and the final product depends on:

  • Objective or Intent
  • Development Phase
  • Completion Stage
  • User Engagement
  • Reliability
  • Revenue Generation

Bottom Line

Frequently testing prototypes with users is the most effective way to ensure that the product genuinely addresses a problem and will have a positive impact on your users' lives.

If you need a tool for testing prototypes that enables anyone on your product team to conduct research at any phase of development, consider giving Qatalyst by Entropik a try. Qatalyst enables your team to perform various user testing methods and receive results in just a few hours.


Supercharge your research with actionable insights faster on Decode's integrated consumer research platform with Insights AI.
Want to conduct lean and unbiased research? Try out Entropik's tech behavioral research platform today!
Want to conduct lean and unbiased research? Try out Entropik's tech behavioral research platform today!
Want to conduct lean and unbiased research? Try out Entropik's tech behavioral research platform today!
Build the Right Products, the Right Way: Elevate your UX with Qatalyst's integrated user research platform with Insights AI.


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Author Bio

Godi Yeshaswi
Yeshaswi is a dedicated and enthusiastic individual with a strong affinity for tech and all things content. When he's not at work, he channels his passion into his love for football, especially for F.C. Barcelona and the GOAT, Lionel Messi. Instead of hitting the town for parties, he prefers to spend quality time cuddling with his Golden Retriever, Oreo.

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