Updated: Feb 11, 2022
In the early phases of product design, smart product teams will create prototypes to better understand what they're doing. This can be especially useful for something that's new and innovative. Getting early feedback from your users represents the most important part of the prototypes. But it's also important to provide your prospective users with a prototype that they can understand. They will usually need something polished enough to "feel real."
But let's get one thing clear - a prototype is not real. In fact, it's a long way from a working product that's ready for production. The prototype is meant purely as a learning tool. All too often, less experienced product teams will release an early version of a product and call it a "working prototype." But then they will extend and improve that prototype and turn it into a production ready product. This is a grave error.
A prototype is a means of discovering what actually matters and what will motivate the people to use the product. The prototype should be shelved when the lessons have been learned.
In the software world, there are many tools built specifically for prototyping. We are not here to endorse any specific tools, but there are many to choose from. The best prototyping tools have built-in feedback mechanisms that simplify the effort to capture the feedback from the prospective users you are building for. Don't wait for version one to learn what your customers want. Find it out before you start.