5 interactive prototype alternatives to test your product idea

“An interactive prototype is not going to work.”

I was surprised. I had never experienced someone objecting so firmly to a prototype. But the guy was right. These types of users in this context will not get it. This is their first smartphone. In the best case, they have only primary education with no previous experience in a professional environment. They also have unstable internet connections. 

We have to build the entire app, give it to them, stand back and observe.

"This is a huge amount of risk!"

You are commenting months of design and development work with the possibility of dumping it all in the trash a half a year later.

Well, while not as easy, you can still test your app idea with different prototyping methods. Some can have even stronger evidence for the viability and profitability of your product.


5 prototypes with better evidence

1. The Frankenstein 

This is a functioning minimum viable product that consists of combining multiple existing services to deliver value.

Example: You can use a dedicated Slack channel as a user input collection. Connect with Zapier to Google Sheets where you store and calculate the data. Then use Zapier again to connect to Mailchimp where you serve the results once a week in a newsletter. Be creative. The opportunities with this method are endless.

Use Case: This is a great way to test if your customers care about the result you are providing them.  

I know you can design and develop awesome apps. But honestly, who needs one more app that you have to log in to and learn how to use even if it is easy and intuitive. People care about results. If you can provide the results they are looking for, no one will ask for an app.

Effort & Impact: You have to learn some new tools. But that’s okay because you love tools, I’m guessing. Zapier seems like an essential here since it acts as the glue between all the other online products or services you are going to need.

The impact - you can start making money with your ideas even before you've written a line of code.

2. Wizard of Oz 

Create a customer experience and deliver value manually with people instead of solely using technology. The name "Wizard of Oz" was derived from the movie, where you have a request that is handled by a person. Unlike Concierge, the people involved aren’t visible to the customer.

Example: You can collect data with a simple survey tool and instead of using AI on the backend, you use real people that compile the results and send it back to the customer via email, SMS or some sort of simple interface. 

Use Case: This is great for testing AI and automation in general. This type of technology is great for winning you some venture money but also spending it without a tangible result.

Effort & Impact: The effort here is minimal. It’s about people's coordination. The impact could be huge. If done correctly, the evidence of this prototype experiment can be as close to testing with the real product.  

3. Mock Sale

Presenting a sale for your product without processing any payment information.

Example: You use paid ads to drive traffic to a product page with a buy button and see if people buy something. Use Google Analytics to see how far people go with the purchasing process. You don’t need to use any payment provider or collect any details. Set the last page after the payment confirmation to say something like "We are not able to complete your payment. No money was drawn from your account. Sorry for the inconvenience. Leave your email below, and we will get in touch once we fix this problem."   

Use Case: Testing a product or feature set viability and pricing. Also some early indicators of profitability. 

Effort & Impact: You can use a website platform such as Squarespace, Wix or Webflow. The effort could be a day's worth of work on the product page and analytics. Knowing the profitability potential before creating your product is pretty powerful and something you can’t do with a clickable prototype.  

4. Presale

A sale held before an item is made available for purchase. Unlike a mock sale, you are processing a financial transaction when it ships.

Example: You can presale your upcoming online course at a significantly lower price for 2 days with the caveat that you need to sell at least 20 to create the course. Otherwise, you will refund the money. 

Use Case: This is great for info products and maybe single-payment software products. Not good for subscriptions.

Effort & Impact: You can use some platforms for selling digital goods like Gumroad. Typically, they have a presale and refund feature so if you have your value proposition text and few images, you will be in business in a few minutes.

5. Single Feature MVP 

A functioning minimum viable product with the single feature needed to test your assumption.

Example: Solve one problem or the biggest problem of your potential customer. Think 7 screens, tops. No fancy landing page and branding and no bells and whistles. 

Use Case: If nothing else works, this is the option for you. But this should be last on your list. However, I often see it as the first. This can easily go out of hand once you start working on it. So trim the scope, and stick to it.

Effort & Impact: You are not building the real product here. It’s a test that you are going to scrap. Don’t use it or treat it as the base of your new app. Designers should create quick wireframes of the main screens. No high fidelity design. The Dev team should use the out of the box solutions frameworks and UI kits. Treat it like a hackathon. Aim to be ready in less than 5 days. The impact is obvious. If people use this scrappy version of your product, then you have a product.

Conclusion

I know interactive prototypes are all the rage right now. But the truth is that they are quite limited.
As product designers, we should broaden our toolsets to facilitate uncovering more valuable insights and design products that people care about.

Are you working on a product right now? Which of these above methods will serve you better than an interactive prototype?


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