When prototyping, you are producing an early, inexpensive, and scaled down version of the product in order to learn more about your team’s idea/point of view or the user group – or even about the other ideas your team has ideated.


Prototyping is concept development in different media. It reassembles the ideas from your notes, sketches, pictures, maps, and the pivotal written version of your point of view to concretize it all in a specific object or interaction. Rather than simply converting the fully developed idea into a product, prototyping continues the previous phases of concept development in a tangible form. When you think with your hands, your thoughts are different and potentially more dynamic than when you think with symbols and words.

Prototyping results in a specific object, scenario or interaction that can actually be used and subsequently tested. The goal of prototyping is to carefully consider what aspect of the idea you want to get feedback on. Do not aim to build full versions of your idea, but focus ahead on specific aspects. In building the prototype, your team further develops these aspects and is able to get feedback from users. In essence, prototyping = learning.

On the path to improvement and learning, you may fail and this failure will help you discover that your prototype may not be the one. Consider these setbacks instead as important steps in the further development of your concept(s). Rather than develop an attachment to your prototype, try building a few in a rapid and lo-fi mode to identify which of the ideas actually has the most potential. Prototyping can even help your team decide which of the ideas to pursue.

As yet another fun and playful activity, you can prototype in many different formats: sketches, paper interfaces, storyboards, with Lego, role-playing or physical models. By trying things out and building things in a basic manner, children learn and adapt until they get it right. But with the rational mind of an adult, consciously put yourself in play mode so that you can learn even more about the problem facing your team.


Although prototyping for design thinking is a playful activity, you will need to structure your approach with some pertinent questions.

>What is the goal of your prototyping activity? Is it:

*to understand the user group better?

*to decide within your team which of the ideas you will develop?

*to test your ideas or assumptions?

>What exactly do you want to test?

* whether people like it?

* whether people will use it?

* whether it fits in the workspace and/or in the organizational culture?

* whether people actually interact as you have assumed or imagined?

> After you have determined the key components of your idea, you will need to determine whether your prototype should be high- or low-fidelity.

High-fidelity prototypes look and operate much like the finished product – consider an early version of a software system developed using a design program such as Sketch or Adobe Illustrator. Low-fidelity prototyping which focuses on the basic features of initial models or examples of the product being tested, is the usual option during the early stages of a design thinking project. Later stages will opt for hi-fi prototyping, when the test questions are more refined. For now, aim for lo-fi to make the prototype rapidly so that you can learn from your mistakes and change quickly in fail fast mode.

You can choose from a variety of lo-fi formats:

Storyboard: sketching the script or scenario of subsequent phases in the use of the product (As an overview of the whole user journey it is not suited for focusing on details).

Sketches: it may seem basic but they are a very creative and effective form.

Paper: interfaces made of paper are particularly useful for early prototyping of digital products, while mock-ups made of paper may show just enough of the functionality of the product/service to make testing possible.

Lego-like prototypes: your inner child may enjoy working with these basic forms and colors to spark your imagination.

Wizard of Oz prototypes: borrowed from the area of software development, this approach that mimics specific functions helps  when user testing is done with a human agent that acts out the role of these functions – for example the function of a virtual assistant software, by typing the digital responses. This can be very time-consuming so it can be reserved for a later stage of the design thinking process.

Role playing: re-enacting a situation is a good way to experience what is going on, and is well-suited when you need an in-depth understanding of the human and interaction part of your design

Physical models: these are appropriate when you need feedback/feedforward on the material form of your design.

Video: this interesting tool for the early project phases can show scenarios, locations, and users in (inter)action.

To help you avoid the common pitfall –  taking the first good idea and sticking to that – DT.Uni recommends developing 2-3 rapid prototypes.


  • Get into the mode of thinking by building immediately. Do not begin by thinking first. Your ideas will develop as your prototype grows. The prototyping stage is NOT about explaining in words. Let the structures “speak” to you and be sure that you are listening.
  • Don’t spend too much time on details; build it fast, and with the mindset that you can and will make changes and adaptations
  • Your critical thinking competence will be allied to your ability to “listen” to your prototypes. Remember that your psychological mechanism that loves your own creation creates an affective resistance to change. Keep the model rough so you don’t step into the trap thinking that This is it!
  • Remember that, when you discover that your prototype requires improvements, you will learn more about where to go and what to make next!
  • If you are designing experiences, try – when possible – to engage the ultimate stakeholders, those who will be living that experience every day, as co-designers.
  • It may help to think about different aspects of the prototype: people; objects; locations; interactions. Ask yourself what your prototype is about and which aspect you would like to learn more about.