UX Consultant Knowledge Base

What is rapid prototyping in software development?

Rebecca Scott

Rebecca Scott, UX Consultant, UX Connections

Here we explain the ins and outs of rapid prototyping and how UX fits into the process

Rapid prototyping is a phrase you will hear a great deal if you are working in a product development environment. But it’s not often clear-cut what it actually is. In this article we explain what rapid prototyping is, the role of ux in the process and why it is useful.

What is rapid prototyping?

When developing a new product it is important to validate design ideas and general hypotheses.  This is done by testing concepts with existing or expected users of a product. Rapid prototyping involves testing a number of different ideas and potential directions in quick succession; in order to gather learnings as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

This is done in order to make product decisions which are grounded in real, rigorously collected user data. Initially these decisions might be related to a product’s overarching value proposition and later down the line tends to focus around product optimisation. 

Through gathering these learnings it is possible to iterate a product concept and make significant improvements in a relatively short time span. The fact that these iterations are based on user feedback also reduces the role of subjectivity in organisational decision making; as it’s essentially grounded in science.

The role of ux in rapid prototyping

UX researchers and designers play a key role in rapid prototyping. They are responsible for designing the concept, prototyping the product, usability testing the product with users and data analysis to inform decisions.  

Product conceptualisation often involves a phase of creative ideation and activities such as workshops. The outputs of which tend to be low-fidelity design ideas. Following this phase, ideas are built out into high-fidelity wireframes which involve detailed functional aspects. 

The next stage involves creating a prototype. It is generally best to create high-fidelity prototypes using software such as Axure. Having a fully functional prototype means that the usability testing is likely to be as realistic as possible. 

Users are then recruited, a testing plan is made and testing sessions are scheduled. Once they have been conducted, the feedback is collated and themes in the data are identified. These results are then used to inform the product’s development and a subsequent iteration; or a decision to pivot the product’s value proposition. 

This process is then repeated, often in sprints, until the feature-set (often an MVP) is defined for development.

Why is rapid prototyping useful?

Rapid prototyping is incredibly useful for a number of different reasons. These reasons include:

  1. Reducing development costs (time and money) – iterating on a prototype is faster and less costly than a fully developed product
  2. Fail fast – it is possibly to learn quickly whether a product or product idea is going to fly with users…or not
  3. Idea Validation – rapid prototyping allows ideas to be tested and put into practice
  4. Decision Making – decisions can be made more effectively as they are grounded in real user data, reducing the potential for ‘paralysis by analysis’

At UX Connections, our consultants have conducted rapid prototyping for a number of major brands such as Radio Times, bwin and betmgm, along with agencies such as Fahrenheit212. We see it as an incredibly valuable part of the UX process.

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