Choosing Between Prototypes and MVPs for Your Next Project
You’ve got a great new product idea burning in your brain, and you’re eager to get it out into the world. But where do you start – with a basic prototype to test the concept, or an MVP version to get market validation from real users? It’s a critical choice to make in those early days of product development.
As someone who’s been there before, I get the pressure you’re under. Today’s tech environment moves at lightning speed, and if you don’t hustle, someone else may beat you to the punch.
However, moving too fast can also backfire if your product misses the mark. You want to validate your assumptions before going all-in.
Prototypes and Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) both have benefits at different stages of product development.
Knowing when to use prototypes Vs MVPs depends entirely on where you’re at and what you want to get out of the process.
In this post, we’ll break down what sets prototypes and MVPs apart so you can make the right choice for your next big idea.
When you hear “prototype,” you probably picture something made with cardboard, fabric, plastic, wire—materials that are relatively quick and easy to work with.
Prototypes can look rough, almost handmade. But that scrappy appearance is not an accident. It’s a deliberate choice.
The purpose of a prototype is to visualize an early product concept and enable basic user interaction. You use prototypes to showcase a general idea of what key features might look like someday and start collecting user feedback.
Since prototypes only represent a concept, you don’t want to spend too much time or money building them to look ultra-polished. The materials aren’t as important as the thinking behind the product and how people respond to it.
Some types of prototypes include:
- Low-fidelity sketches – Hand-drawn screen layouts and workflows
- Wireframes – Digital screens showing interface/structure
- Paper prototypes – Mockups made of paper, cardboard, and other arts and crafts materials
- Digital prototypes – Clickable user flows made with tools like Figma and Adobe XD
Prototypes expose the vision rather than the finished product. Their very nature means you expect to refine and revise them extensively throughout the development process.
Benefits of Prototyping
Prototyping offers several advantages, especially in the early stages of product ideation and design:
You can modify prototypes quickly to test out different concepts, layouts, workflows, and scenarios.
Paper prototyping materials make it easy to shuffle elements around or create entirely new versions. This flexibility supports rapid iteration based on internal discussions and user feedback.
By putting a rough concept in front of users early on, prototypes reveal pain points and flaws that you can address before development progresses too far. Early user feedback makes sure you head down the right path.
Interacting with prototypes, even very simple hand-drawn ones, gives users a feel for what you have in mind. This makes the product seem more tangible and “real” to users. Their reactions reveal whether the overall idea resonates.
Prototypes engage stakeholders because they finally have something visual and interactive to react to instead of just an abstract concept.
Observing user tests gets stakeholders bought into solutions and gives them confidence you’re headed in the right direction.
In summary, think of prototypes as disposable vehicles for gathering feedback that advances the product vision. The prototype itself is not the end goal; it’s to be torn apart and rebuilt.
A minimum viable product (MVP) comes from the same impulse as a prototype: wanting validation before sinking excessive time and money into a product. However, MVPs take a different approach.
Unlike rough, unfinished prototypes, MVPs are functional products, built using proper coding techniques and infrastructure that could support and grow an actual released product someday.
An MVP aims to showcase the core value proposition in a streamlined tool users can truly engage with to accomplish basic tasks.
Think of an MVP like the Model T Ford: no fancy bells and whistles, just reliable transportation from Point A to Point B.
While you may eventually evolve its features, every aspect of an MVP should directly support solving users’ primary need. Nice-to-have elements get cut in favor of only what’s essential for assessing product/market fit.
Some MVP examples:
- Dropbox started as a video explaining cloud storage
- Zappos began as an informational site focused on shoes
- Groupon built initial traction by partnering with local merchants
Rather than visualize a broad concept like prototypes do, MVPs offer a spartan but functional version of the product itself, laser focused on delivering core value quickly.
Benefits of MVP Development
This stripped-down implementation strategy produces several meaningful outcomes:
Early Market Validation
Observing actual product use instead of reactions to prototypes yields clearer market validation signals. Tracking conversion metrics indicates whether target customers value the product enough to engage and return.
Because MVPs require only essential features, developers waste less time overproducing unnecessary bells and whistles early on. This accelerated process for building core functionality often dramatically reduces time-to-market.
Narrowing scope to just vital features also helps focus resources on solving the right problems. Removing unnecessary complexity leaves energy to refine and enhance the features that matter most to driving user adoption.
The lean nature of MVP products inspires product teams to listen closely to users to determine what to build next now that the core stands established. Observed usage patterns reveal helpful insights for intelligently guiding ongoing feature roadmaps.
In summary, MVPs trade imaginary concepts for reality-based testing and feedback. Their leanness leads teams down more focused developmental paths.
Choosing Between Prototypes and MVPs
Determining whether to start with a prototype or MVP depends on where you’re at in product development and what questions need to be answered. Here are a few factors to consider:
Proof of Concept
If your idea is still embryonic, prototyping can help determine technical feasibility and claify the concept. MVPs require more upfront effort when you may still be figuring things out.
Prototypes are extremely useful when user experience is central to adoption. They allow you to test and refine workflows before building them out for real.
MVPs make more sense if getting an initial product out faster provides a competitive advantage. Just be sure to start with the must-have features.
Prototyping can be done cheaply, making it a good choice if your team and budget is limited in the early stages.
Connecting with early adopters is crucial, so if you need their direct input to guide development, starting with a basic but functioning MVP can provide that.
As you evaluate these factors, pay attention to what you want to get out of the process at this particular phase—is it vision alignment, technical validation, user feedback, or simply accelerating market availability? Match your choice to the outcomes needed most right now.
And keep in mind prototypes and MVPs aren’t mutually exclusive—you can blend both approaches. Some products naturally start with low-fidelity prototypes and gradually evolve them into a functioning MVP over time.
Ultimately what matters is learning fast, confirming you’re solving real problems for real people, and continually refining the product experience.
Prototypes and MVPs give you tools to extract that vital wisdom early so you can build something users genuinely want.
Don’t be afraid to employ them both at different points—whatever keeps you tuned into your users’ needs.
Best Practices and Recommendations
When used together, prototypes and MVPs can be extremely powerful for mitigating development risk while accelerating learnings:
- Use prototypes for early concept validation before determining MVP feature scope and priorities for development.
- Transition prototype designs into MVP build requirements to maintain continuity from testing to real product.
Additionally, agile development approaches emphasize iterative cycles, early user engagement, and lightweight development, which strongly align to both prototyping and MVP best practices:
- Build/test rapidly, refine frequently – Short sprints and frequent feedback loops
- Continuously improve and adapt – Respond quickly to user insights
So in summary:
- Leverage prototypes to visualize and test concepts quickly
- Use MVPs to validate product-market direction with real user data
- Transition prototype learnings into streamlined MVP feature scope
- Employ agile iterative processes for efficiency and continuous improvement
You may be eager to dive all-in on turning your big idea into reality. But pausing first to create prototypes and MVPs along the way can save massive headaches.
They allow you to quickly validate assumptions and get the user feedback needed to guide development, rather than realizing too late that no one wants what you built.
Keep in mind that prototypes primarily illustrate product concepts, while MVPs enable real-world testing and feedback.
Choose which one makes the most sense right now based on your current stage of progress and what specific insights you need.
And according to that, select the right prototypes or MVP development company. Prototyping helps crystallize vision, while MVPs provide wisdom that can only come from actual usage.
Blending low-fidelity prototypes with simplified MVP versions enables iterative learning critical in those early stages. Take advantage of both approaches to visualize and test product concepts quickly and cheaply.
While not full-feature builds, prototypes and MVPs give you superpowers to see into the future, gather user wisdom beyond your personal lens, and ultimately create products people genuinely want and value.
About the Author!
Hemang Trambadia is a skilled digital marketing expert at Peerbits who has worked with a variety of businesses, from small startups to large corporations, helping them increase their online presence and drive more traffic to their websites. His expertise lies in search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising (PPC), social media marketing, and email marketing. He is skilled at creating data-driven marketing campaigns that deliver results and is always up-to-date on the latest digital marketing trends and techniques. When he’s not working, Hemang enjoys watching movies and traveling.