The Difference Between a Prototype and an MVP

When you’re developing a new product, one of the most exciting parts of the process is when a real prototype is ready to touch, hold, and try out. Early prototypes influence the minimum viable product (MVP), and work together to lead to a successful end product. But what are the differences between a prototype and an MVP?

A prototype can be tested for function, durability, and aesthetics. Prototypes are developed first, providing a resource for gathering research, and giving you validation for creating the MVP down the line.

The various prototypes created, and the resulting MVP, will help test your assumptions, align your design with user needs, and take the risk out of your product development process.

Read on to learn more about prototype and MVP creation, and the difference between prototypes and MVPs.

 

1. START BY STATING YOUR HYPOTHESIS

A good product offers a bundle of features in an attractive and functional format. It meets the unmet needs or desires of a group of consumers, at an acceptable price. You should be able to summarize your product proposition like this:

“Product A will offer feature set B, using technology C, in a package D (size, weight, style, etc.), to solve market segment E’s problem set F, at price point G.”

This is called a basic product specification or design brief, and is the first step toward testing your offering. Even at this stage, you can start to test your hypothesis by asking members of your target market if they would purchase your product if you delivered it.

If they say no, find out why not. If they say yes, ask what else would they like to see included. For some people, this can be too hypothetical to imagine, which is why prototyping is so useful.

 

2. MAKE 3D RENDERINGS OF YOUR CONCEPTS

Getting feedback from customers based on computer-generated renderings of various concept directions can help you make your first cut, narrowing your concepts and saving time and prototyping costs in the long run. Renderings can also demonstrate functionality by showing the graphical user interface, buttons, ports, cables, and other features and functions.

Using the latest technology in 3D CAD modeling and advanced rendering software, it’s possible to take a photograph of a product that doesn’t yet exist. Doing so is a bit like travelling into the future, taking pictures of a product that took months to develop, then returning to the present day with photographs you can use to get feedback.

It can be a bit mind-boggling…. At Outerspace Design, we’ve confused clients by showing them rendered images of concepts, leading to the request, “the photos of the prototypes look great—can we see them in person?”

 

3. PRODUCE AN APPEARANCE MODEL

The next step after a rendering is to make an appearance model, or visual prototype. This is a low-cost physical model that looks and feels like the real thing, but lacks functionality.

For example, when Outerspace Design wanted to get market feedback on new vent cover designs for a bathroom fan product, we conducted a double-blind survey using the client’s existing products, competitors’ products, and 3D-printed rapid prototypes of the new concepts.

In order to compare apples with apples, branding was removed and all the covers, including actual products and printed prototypes, were painted the same color and given the same texture to isolate the testing to the aesthetic styling, or form, of the product.

Test subjects were selected from the target market, and interestingly, the preferred designs were not ones the creative designers or brand manager preferred. Which leads to the fourth point…


Get your product to market quickly. Save Time and Money with Our Product Development Brief Template.

4. TEST ACTUAL USERS

Don’t “test” your prototypes on your stakeholders, such as your company managers, designers, marketers, or even your CEO. While you may gain some valuable insights, the opinions gathered will likely not represent the largest group of consumers who will purchase your product.

Each stakeholder has vested interest and bias, especially if they’ve helped set the product vision, or spent time developing the product. In order for the results to be valid, testing should be conducted by an unbiased third party. A large sample of actual customers and potential customers should be used.

 

5. CREATE A PROOF-OF-CONCEPT (POC) PROTOTYPE

After testing customers, a proof-of-concept (POC), or functional prototype, will validate the technical feasibility of your product idea. If your product idea is genuinely innovative, there will be some uncertainty whether or not it will work.

The POC prototype combines off-the-shelf components, fabricated parts, bits or circuits cobbled together from other products, and perhaps some custom software. It won’t necessarily look like the end product, but it should work. And you’ll be able to show it alongside the appearance model to demonstrate both form and function.     

 

6. THE PRESENTATION PROTOTYPE

The presentation prototype functions as intended, and looks great. When you attend an auto show and a company unveils a new car model, it’s a presentation model. It has all the features of the new model, and is driveable. Usually, there is some indication what the selling price will be. It’s still a prototype, however, as it has not yet been mass-produced for sale.

 

7. THE MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT

In many ways, the minimum viable product matches its MVP acronym, as it is the most valuable player in your product-testing lineup. An MVP provides the most realistic and accurate feedback on whether your product will succeed in the market.

The MVP is just good enough to be sold. It includes the core features and functionality of your product solution, with sufficient refinement. You’ll maximize your validated learning with the least amount of investment in time and resources.

The MVP allows you to test and validate:

  • Product viability
  • Assumptions you have about the product
  • The market demand
  • Product usability

Generally, initial sales of the MVP are to early adopters within your target market. It’s important that you test market (sell) copies of the MVP to actual customers—not family and friends—as the demand will be more honest. The customer is parting with cash, therefore the feedback and criticism will be more immediate, as customers expect value in exchange for their money.

The MVP, when done correctly, can be the catalyst enabling businesses to innovate and keep pace with their competitors.

 

8. MEASURE, REFINE, LAUNCH, REPEAT

The success of each version of the MVP should be measured using well-defined criteria. Feedback must be taken and used to improve the next MVP, until the product is ready for full-scale launch.

Even after launch, you should have systems in place to capitalize on valuable feedback from your customers. The goal is continuous innovation; this is the nature of product research and development investment, and fosters a sustainable business model.

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Sergei Plishka
About the Author
Sergei Plishka
Sergei has a particular interest in eco architecture and design, including alternative materials and sustainable energy management. Following a passion for travel and knowledge he’s studied in Canada, Singapore and Australia, achieving degrees in commerce and industrial design.

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