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Prototyping for Designers by Kathryn McElroy

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What Is a Prototype?

In this chapter, I’ll share current views on what makes a prototype and how to prototype in your everyday work.

Everything Is a Prototype

Each thing that you make or activity that you do can be improved. Nothing is ever completely finished; you simply run out of time for the current release. Even if you’re happy with the product you deliver, your users will have feedback, and there are bound to be tweaks and changes that you need to make for future versions or releases. No matter how many times you test or prototype, you will always be able to find something new to improve in your product.

The Oxford definition of a prototype is: “A first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or copied.”1 The word originates from the Greek prōtotupos, meaning “first example.” By this definition, anything that takes an idea out of your head and makes it visible to others may be considered a prototype. The critical element that this definition is missing is the intention to test and improve the prototype over time. So our definition of a prototype moving forward is: a manifestation of an idea into a format that communicates the idea to others or is tested with users, with the intention to improve that idea over time. If you prefer a more specific definition of prototyping, this book will still be useful. However, I ask you to keep an open mind to what prototyping might be, and how you might incorporate ...

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