How to make your prototype test-ready

To test the usability, understanding, or experience of a new idea you will need to be able to show it in a realistic way to somebody that represents your user. For this you’ll need a prototype. A prototype is a simulation of a website, application or certain functionality that can be used to validate a product or functionality before it is completely built.


But what should you think about when making a prototype and when is your prototype done? Every prototype is different and any list would be incomplete, so there’s no exact step-by-step process we can share. Instead let us help you find the answers!

Know what you need to learn

A usability test is intended to move the design forward, improve the product, and ensure that your concept meets its full potential. If you go through the test without gaining insights about your concept, than you’re not really testing at all. Depending on where you are in your product development, you may have different questions about your concept. You might, for example, just wonder if the user understands what the concept could offer, or you want to know if the user can go through the entire flow without problems. The important part is to first know where you are in the design process, what your expectations about user behaviours and user needs are, and what you need to learn to move forward and improve your ideas. Only with clear research questions in mind you can make a valuable prototype.

Make a realistic looking façade

A prototype is meant to answer your usability questions at your current stage of development. You could try to make a prototype that fully works and reacts to the users actions, but then you are wasting your time. It’s better to test early and often with iterations of your concept. This doesn’t mean that you can show your participants something that doesn’t look finished or ask them to use their imaginations. This will make them stop “using” the prototype and will make them start giving suggestions about it. This is not the goal of a usability test. Instead you need to create a realistic looking façade of a finished product with just enough quality to evoke genuine, natural, and honest reactions from your participants. If the quality is too low, you won’t be able to answer your usability questions. If the quality is too high, you’ll just be wasting time and money.

Experiment with new ideas!

Prototypes should be seen as a tool for tinkering and are best used within an iterative process. You can choose to make a conventional design and use usability testing to confirm your expectations, but innovation happens by taking risks. Do you have a new idea about how to solve a users need or issue? Now is the time to test it! When you learn from failed ideas early and improve on them, you can call it a success. By testing early you can also easily break discussions about design with real insights.

Keep an open mind

You use your prototype to learn something about your product and improve your ideas, and thus all prototypes should be made with clear research questions in mind. Do not lose sight of these, but at the same time, do also look out for other lessons you could learn. You should not lose sight of the bigger picture of which your prototype is a part. You could become so invested in the details of your design that you start missing the issues of the entire users flow. It is also important to be able to accept the results you gather. If you spend time and energy on your prototype you could get more emotionally attached and you’ll believe that mistakes and unclarities are only because of the participant. 

Do a trial run

When using your prototype in a test you should always do a trail run together with a colleague that also takes the interviews. He or she needs to be familiar with the prototype to get more results out of the interviews. Additionally this person will often find some mistakes or inconsistencies that you have not seen. Furthermore you should make sure that together you will also revisit the research questions. It is not only a last check to make sure you’ll be able to answer them all, but the interviewer might also be able to give some suggestions that make the prototype more suitable for answering your research questions. By doing the trail run a day before the actual test you will show the latest version and still have enough time to fix mistakes and patch holes.