Prototype vs MVP : understand the major difference

When developing your app, you may wonder whether to start with a prototype or a minimum viable product (MVP). Both serve as testing options for digital products, but they have distinct purposes and differences. In this article, we will delve into the definitions of these two options and their relative advantages, as well as how we incorporate and utilize them at Boldare.

Difference Between Prototype vs MVP

A prototype is designed to test the fundamental concept of a product, while a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) assesses specific features, assuming the fundamental concept has already been validated. Unlike a prototype, an MVP is functional and can be used to a certain extent. Prototypes often focus on the visual representation of the product, whereas an MVP goes beyond appearance to offer limited but functional utility. In some cases, it is practical to use a prototype to validate basic assumptions before proceeding to develop an MVP that advances the work further.

The definitions of prototype and minimum viable product (MVP) can overlap depending on specific requirements. At Boldare, our approach typically involves creating prototypes with additional functionality compared to MVPs. However, it is important to note that there remains a distinct difference between our prototypes and MVPs:

  • A prototype app is a functional demonstration of the product, designed to uncover any potential usability issues.
  • On the other hand, an MVP app represents the core value proposition of the product, condensed into essential features to deliver value to the market as quickly as possible.

Prototype vs MVP: Digital prototypes explained

The core of the lean startup approach and any agile development methodology is the focus on the product’s intended user. It is essential to engage with the users to ensure that the product being built aligns with their needs and preferences. Therefore, it is crucial to actively seek and incorporate user feedback to create a product that is valuable and relevant to its intended audience.

The primary distinction of using an MVP lies in the fact that, with a prototype, you are evaluating the concept and the potential visual user experience of the product. A prototype lacks features, functionality, and significant engineering. Its purpose is to present the look and feel of the product to users, stakeholders, or investors (often used as a pitch tool) to validate the product’s appearance. Not with standing the benefits of using a prototype, an MVP focuses on delivering the minimum set of features necessary to solve a specific problem and gather validated learning from users. This approach allows for a quicker time to market and reduces the risk of building unnecessary features. By testing the core functionality of the product, an MVP helps to validate the market demand and gather valuable feedback for future iterations.

It represents the initial real-world testing of the concept and is therefore executed swiftly, with minimal development, time, or resources. While this approach may seem limited, a prototype aims to elicit a reaction rather than detailed feedback. The goal is to prevent testers from mentally designing the final product and instead gauge their response to the business idea and product concept. Key questions include: Is there a target audience for the product? Is the development headed in the right direction?

What is a Prototype?

Prototype vs MVP

A prototype is a first model or example of something, like a toy or a machine, that is made to test and see how it works before making the final version.

Different Types of Prototypes

Prototyping is a crucial step in the design and development process of products, systems, or services, allowing teams to explore ideas and iterate on them before finalizing designs. There are several types of prototypes, each serving different purposes and used at various stages of the development process. Here’s an overview of the different types of prototypes:

  1. Proof-of-Concept (PoC) Prototypes: These are used to demonstrate the feasibility of a certain concept or idea. They are usually not fully functional and focus on testing a specific aspect of the product, such as a novel algorithm or an innovative material.
  2. Visual Prototypes: These focus on the appearance of the product, showing its shape, color, and texture, but without any functional elements. They are often used for stakeholder presentations or for evaluating aesthetic and ergonomic considerations.
  3. Functional Prototypes: Opposite to visual prototypes, functional prototypes focus on the workings of the product without necessarily replicating its final appearance. They are used to test and refine the functionality of the product, including its mechanics, electronics, or software.
  4. Working Prototypes: These combine both the appearance and functionality of the product, providing a close representation of how the final product will look and work. Working prototypes are used for more detailed testing and validation, including user testing and refinement of both form and function.
  5. Digital Prototypes: Created using computer-aided design (CAD) software, digital prototypes allow for extensive testing and simulation in a virtual environment. They can be used to assess form, function, and user interaction without the need for physical materials, saving time and resources.

The Benefits of Prototyping

Prototyping brings a myriad of advantages to the development process, impacting stakeholder engagement, market insight, and the product’s time-to-market. Here’s an enriched perspective on the benefits of prototyping:

  1. Securing Commitment: Prototypes serve as tangible evidence of a project’s potential, making it easier to secure the buy-in of stakeholders and investors. By presenting a concrete representation of the idea, prototypes can significantly boost confidence and support, ensuring the necessary resources and backing are available throughout the project lifecycle.
  2. Enhancing Understanding: The feedback gathered from presenting a prototype provides invaluable insights into the market’s reception of the product. This external validation moves the project beyond the theoretical confines of the development team, exposing potential risks, flaws, and confirming the viability of the product concept. It’s an essential step in validating that the project is on the right track or if pivots are necessary.
  3. Accelerating Market Launch: Incorporating prototyping into the development workflow allows for iterative testing and refinement, helping to identify and resolve issues early on. This proactive approach reduces the likelihood of major revisions later in the process, enabling a quicker transition from concept to market-ready product.
  4. Cost Efficiency: Early detection and correction of design flaws or misunderstandings about user needs can significantly reduce development costs. Prototyping helps prevent the high expenses associated with making changes to a finished product, making it a cost-effective strategy for project management.
  5. Enhancing Creativity and Innovation: Prototyping fosters a creative environment by encouraging the exploration of ideas and solutions without the pressure of committing to a final design. This openness can lead to innovative features and improvements that might not have been discovered through traditional development processes.
  6. Improving User Experience: Through user testing of prototypes, designers gain direct insights into user behaviors, preferences, and pain points. This feedback is crucial for refining user interfaces and interactions, ensuring that the final product is not only functional but also intuitive and user-friendly.
  7. Facilitating Better Communication: A prototype acts as a visual and interactive tool that can communicate the project’s vision more effectively than words or diagrams alone. This clarity is invaluable for aligning team members, stakeholders, and clients around a common understanding of the project goals and design intentions.
  8. Risk Reduction: By validating concepts early and frequently, prototyping minimizes the risks associated with launching a product that may not meet market needs or expectations. It allows for adjustments based on real user feedback, reducing the chance of product failure upon release.

What is an MVP?

An MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, is a concept from Lean Startup methodology that emphasizes the importance of learning in new product development. It’s the most basic version of a product that still allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort. The primary goal of an MVP is to test hypotheses about the market and the product’s appeal to its potential users with minimal resources.

What is The Difference Between Prototype and MVP?

The distinction between a prototype and a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is fundamental in product development, particularly in the fields of software development, technology, and design. Both serve critical roles in the journey from concept to market-ready product, but they cater to different objectives and stages of the development process.

Here’s a comparison in a tabular format:

PurposeTo validate design concepts, functionalities, and user interaction.To validate the business idea with the least effort needed to start learning from real users.
FunctionalityMay not be fully functional; focuses on one or a few aspects of the product.Provides enough functionality to be used by early customers but is the simplest form of the product.
AudiencePrimarily for internal use by the development team and stakeholders for feedback.Targeted at early adopters or a segment of the potential market.
FeedbackUsed to refine and iterate on design and functionality within the team or with specific stakeholders.Used to gather insights from actual users to guide future development and validate the product market fit.
Development StageEarly in the development process, often iterated several times.Later stage, after some prototypes have likely been developed and tested.
ObjectiveTo explore and experiment with different aspects of the product design and functionality.To launch a product that meets minimum criteria for market entry and to start the learning process from a real-world use.
IterationPrototypes are often not intended to evolve into the final product but serve as a test for specific features.The MVP is a launchable product that will be iterated upon based on user feedback, evolving into a more refined, full-featured product.

Understanding the differences between a prototype and an MVP is crucial for effectively managing the product development lifecycle. Prototypes are about exploring and testing, often discarded in favor of new versions, whereas an MVP is about putting a basic yet functional product into the hands of users to start the process of iteration based on actual market feedback.

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