Prototyping - where to start?

As we already established in the previous post - everything is a prototype. With that in mind, you should try to start prototyping as soon as possible to understand, communicate or improve your ideas. 

While this article tries to demystify the how-to part, you should not be discouraged to start right away, even without knowing the perfect process. Remember, everything is a prototype. 


One of the critical steps in your prototyping journey is the fidelity of the prototype you choose. We could describe fidelity as “how close will the prototype get to the real product”. It’s important to choose the right fidelity for your goal and audience. Fidelity usually comes in 3 different levels: low, mid and high-fidelity. Depending on the goal of your prototype you could also use a mixture of those 3 levels.  Often when we use prototyping to communicate our ideas to other team members we would use a mixture of different fidelities. We would provide a few static images combined with a coded/animated prototype to showcase specific interactions. 

Low fidelity

If you’re just getting started with prototyping the safest way is to start here. Use low-fidelity prototyping to test core concepts, exploring many different ideas and catching problems before they occur. Don’t get hung up on the looks as prototypes at this level usually don't resemble the final product at all. Some examples of low-fidelity prototypes are paper prototypes, storyboards, wireframes, mood boards, sketches.

Mid fidelity

Mid-fidelity prototypes are the next step and a lot closer to the final product. You should have more refined assumptions/hypotheses already in place to progress to mid-fidelity prototypes. A more refined approach will also get you better insights. They start to incorporate visual design, functionality, interactions and the final medium. Examples of mid-fidelity prototypes are usually clickable prototypes or coded prototypes. 

High fidelity

High-fidelity prototypes are almost indistinguishable from the final product. They have to incorporate the visual design elements and the ability to interact with almost all features of the prototype. Obviously, this level of detail has its tradeoffs in time and skill needed to produce such a prototype. Try to test most of your assumptions with a lower fidelity level of prototypes and only progress towards a high-fidelity version when you want to test or improve on a specific detail (animation, delightful elements) or a specific user flow (or the entire product). An example of a prototype would be a fully coded product that is not yet ready for release but is good enough to be tested with some users. 


It takes time and experience to accurately choose the fidelity of your prototype. If you don’t know where to start a good rule of thumb is to start with low-fidelity prototypes and work towards a high-fidelity prototype as you are exploring and getting feedback. Try to use low-fidelity prototypes for testing concepts and high-level ideas. Use high-fidelity prototypes for testing details and nuances in your prototypes. 

While choosing your fidelity level try to also consider the time and effort needed. Choosing the right fidelity will help you to achieve your prototyping goals faster and easier. 


While we don’t talk a lot about dimensions in prototypes we mostly use them while discussing the prototyping process. Any prototype is essentially a mixture of fidelity and dimensions. In 2006 Michael Mccurdy et al. defined the five dimensions of prototypes in the article titled Breaking the fidelity barrier

The five dimensions are 

  1. visual refinement 
  2. breath of functionality
  3. depth of functionality 
  4. Interactivity
  5.  data model. 

The most used dimensions are probably visual refinement and interactivity. Visual refinement is the amount of visual language you will use in your prototype. Simplified, it means how closely will the prototype resemble the final product. We often think of visual refinement as a fidelity (most high-fidelity) while actually, we can have mid-fidelity or even low-fidelity prototypes that are visually refined. A good example of this would be a landing page for marketing purposes. 

The second most used dimension is the interactivity of your prototype. We often add interactions like a click or a swipe to even mid or low-fidelity prototypes to test a user journey. A good example of this would be a low-fidelity wireframe combined in a user journey that would allow the user to click on a specific interface element. 

The remaining dimensions are breadth of functionality, depth of functionality and data model. Breadth of functionality indicates how much of the final functionality of a product will be represented in the prototype. We usually use this dimension at the start of a product journey to test and understand brother concepts. 

Depth of functionality is used when we are talking about how closely the prototyped functionality will resemble the final product. Testing filtering functionality is a good example of this. We might choose to create a prototype that would allow the user to test multiple filter combinations. 

The remaining dimension is the data model used in the prototype. It’s always recommended to test with real data that a product might have. An example of not using the products data model would be to use “dummy text” like “lorem ipsum”. This dimension is not always easy to achieve, especially if you try to combine it with the interactivity dimension, but when it’s done it will give you the most accurate results. 

We often misuse the dimension part of a prototype and assign a dimension to a fidelity level. For example a lot of times a visually refined prototype would be considered high-fidelity. We encourage you to use a combination of fidelity and dimensions while thinking about your prototype. This will help you to better manage expectations and get more accurate results. 


Most of the prototypes we create are hypothesis-driven. Meaning that our primary goal is to confirm or reject a hypothesis that we have about a user's problem. Sometimes the prototype will cover almost the whole product and sometimes we will try to test just a part of it. 

For the purpose and audience of this blog post, we simplified the process of prototyping. This step by step process should be a good starting point.

* Adopted from  Kathryn McElroy, Prototyping for designers, O'Reilly Media, Inc., 2016, page 61

Step 1: Research your product problem and your user 

Don’t skip this part. Even if you are using your prototype to better understand the user, it is still important to spend some time researching the product problem and the landscape around it. 

Step 2: Define your prototyping goal

Prototypes can be used for communicating, improving or understanding. Based on the goal you will be able to define your scope and choose the fidelity of your prototype. For example, often when the goal of the prototype is to communicate or to understand the problem the chosen fidelity would be low or mid-level. This would allow us to explore and discuss a lot of ideas in a very short period.

If your goal is to communicate you should think about your audience for the prototype. Understanding to whom you will be showing this prototype is crucial for choosing your fidelity level. 

If your goal is to improve the product you should also include a set of assumptions or hypotheses that you want to test. 

If your goal is to understand you are essentially looking for the right problem to solve. You should try to generate lots of ideas.

Step 3: Define the scope

It’s important to define the scope of the prototype beforehand. This will ensure that you probably manage expectations for yourself, your team members and your users. If your prototyping goal is to improve a product you should also include a user flow. User flows are a set of specific steps a user might take to complete their goal. 

Step 4: Choose the prototype fidelity 

As we already explained at the start of this article the fidelity of the prototype is a critical step in your process. The fidelity of the prototype is closely related to the prototyping goal. 

Step 5: Prototype. FINALLY!

Fun, fun, fun. 

Depending on your goal and chosen fidelity x dimension mixture this step is the biggest and most important. Because you will be building the actual prototype. How to build a prototype, however, is a blog post of its own. But if you are just starting don’t hesitate to look up tools like Axure, Figma, Invision or Webflow. 

Step 6: Test or present your prototype

If your goal is to improve, you need to test your prototype with the users you defined during the research phase. It’s good to be organised and write a research plan defining the assumption of your testing, listing users that you will interact with and your questions/tasks for the user. 

If your goal is to communicate or to improve,the end result of your testing will be something that you will use as an input for your next prototype or you will present the prototype to your team members to better communicate your ideas. 

Step 7: Analyse results and repeat

Before you go through another cycle with your prototype it’s wise to take a minute and evaluate your process and results. 

While those steps and concepts of fidelity and dimensions might seem complicated for prototyping they will help you be more efficient and accurate. The key to a good prototype is to firstly understand its limitations and have a plan and goal of what you want to better understand, improve or communicate. Based on this you can choose the right mixture for your prototype. 

Key takeaways 

  • Before you start your prototype, always ask yourself what your goal is. Define your fidelity x dimensions mixture based on that. 
  • Fidelity comes in three levels: low, mid and high-fidelity. We use fidelity to describe how close to the final product the prototype is. 
  • Dimensions of a prototype are often hidden and misunderstood within the fidelity levels. We encourage you to think of them separately. This will help you to better understand and plan your prototype.
  • The basic promise of prototyping is to improve, communicate or understand faster. So, you should not feel intimidated by all those definitions and steps. If you don’t know where to start - pen and paper are enough.

Want to chat more about your tech venture prototype? Get in touch at sales@dlabs.io.