The Best Time to Prototype

November 17, 2021

There is never a wrong time to prototype, as apps can (and should!) constantly be updated. We’re going to explore today to determine the best time to prototype so that you can reap all the benefits, no matter what stage of the app or website building process you’re currently in. 

Prototype When You Need to Validate Your Business Idea

The first thing investors will want to know is: does anyone actually want this product? And you can’t fully answer this question until you complete an exhaustive number of customer interviews in which you eventually get to the root of customer pain. Only then can you attempt to build an accurate prototype that mimics the solution you plan to build. 

Founder and CEO of Cash Flow Portal, Perry Zheng, describes a prototype as a container for essential information: “When you start working on a design project, your first focus is to gather all the information you can. This is followed by organizing this information to be able to understand the requirements and generate ideas.”

According to Zheng, instead of being anxious about whether or not you are ready to prototype, the best course of action is to learn as much as you can and just jump in. He continues, “After [information gathering] is the right time to prototype because you are now aware of all the dos and don’ts in this domain. You know all the customer requirements to be able to start designing within the correct guidelines.”

When users can tap or click through a basic prototype, they can give you better feedback on how this solution meets their needs. Taking note of their gut reactions and how they move through the prototype can help you build the best possible minimum viable product that will eventually stand on its own two feet in the market.

A designer working on her prototype from her home office.
Prototyping early and often helps product launches go smoothly.

Prototype When You Need Funding 

No investor is going to fund a drawing on the back of a napkin. They need to know that customers have validated your prototype and then see it for themselves. Give them something tangible to experience and react to in order to encourage them to participate in your seed round. When they can tap around a mobile app prototype, they can better understand the product you aim to bring to market. It also shows that the team has put the time and effort into turning an idea into a reality. It will place your team in front of others who are just thinking of their points of differentiation instead of acting on them. 

Prototype When You Need to Test Your User Flow

User research is essential to creating products that customers will love. Locking down a user flow that is intuitive and enjoyable is an important early step for products that are soon to become fan favorites. But remember that this isn’t the time for bells and whistles. Instead, it’s the perfect time to get the key elements of your flow and features down. Colors and complex interactions can be added in later. You’ll, of course, want to test these elements with another quick round of user testing in the future, but get the basics down first to make sure potential customers don’t get distracted by tiny details that might not even make it into the final product that launches. 

Three people sitting around a laptop, one woman takes notes.
Watch your users walk through your prototype so that you can determine how intuitive it is.

Prototype When You Need to Iterate 

Just like when you created your very first prototype, you’ll want to continue this practice when you’re considering an upgrade. At this point, you’ll need to tap users again to get a fresh take on your planned updates. If these suggested updates are validated by customers, then it’s time to get these plans over to developers to make them a reality. On the other hand, if you need to go back to the drawing board because your new features didn’t quite resonate with customers, then you’ll be very pleased that you used a quick, low-fidelity prototype instead of wasting weeks or months of your developers’ time on a failed initiative. 

Prototyping for iteration is also applicable for websites. Both mobile apps and websites need to be updated often. Whether it’s adding a new type of page or updating content, websites need to be prototyped frequently if they are expected to be up to date. Trends change often, and what was acceptable last month might not be what a design team wants to display the following. So prototyping consistently is essential to keeping either a website or mobile app current.  

Karla Fernandes, UX/UI & Digital Product Designer at Vitamina K, breaks down her process for prototyping websites: “The best time to start will be as early as you can, this way you will ensure that it will be inexpensive and you can use the opportunity to bring your ideas to life, test the practicability of your current design, and potentially investigate how users think and feel about it. The test results should be used to redefine and improve your project depending on what you want the user to accomplish by visiting your website.” 

Prototype When You Need to Liaise with Developers

When handing off a design to developers, you need to be able to show and tell your big idea to make sure communication goes well from the get-go. Often designers or product teams have something very specific in mind in terms of animation or transitions that is hard to explain with words. A prototype, in this case, bridges the communication gap with stakeholders and helps developers do a better job executing. When you can show exactly what you intend users to interact with, developers can start with a strong understanding of what is expected of them and not waste precious time on multiple rounds of edits late in the process. 

Avoiding Pitfalls with Prototyping

Prototyping requires care: both in terms of caring about creating the simplest solution for users and in terms of paying attention to each and every detail. Zheng offers some advice for prototypers: “Over the years, I have learned that prototyping is a process that requires immense focus. You could believe that you are creating something unique only to later find out you pulled a blunder. This is because it is always challenging to consider every single user requirement at once. However, this is the purpose of prototyping, to find the right solution. The art of entertaining all user requirements in your design is what you learn working on prototypes.”

Two women looking at lines of code on a laptop.
Let prototypes do the heavy lifting before your call in developers or even designers.

Prototypes are part art and part science. They aim to balance the key features of the app or website and straightforwardly present them. It takes time to get this right, but it is well worth the effort. Especially because prototypes can be very effective at exposing bad ideas. In the moment, it can seem like a big waste of time to mock up something that isn’t going to make it past user testing, but in the long run, ruling out ideas that won’t work is very valuable. This can lead to the winning ideas and features that will make acquiring funding for early-stage startups easier and drive long-term revenue for more established companies. 

Prototypes for Companies of All Sizes

It’s important to mention that prototypes can be helpful across company types and stages. Entrepreneurs working on pre-seed endeavors might prototype to grow their team, and funding and massive design teams at global conglomerates also use them. The best time to prototype might vary based on the company’s goals, but what holds true is that they always help keep teams aligned and drive efficiency.

When do you think is the best time to prototype? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio. helps you bring your idea to life in no time, with no coding skills required. It’s ideal for UX designers, entrepreneurs, product managers, marketers, students, and anyone with a great idea. Sign up for a free 15-day trial to start building your first prototype today!