3 Tricks for Faster Software Prototyping


Software prototyping can be a valuable way to validate product design decisions before embarking fully on a project — provided you don’t waste time in the process.

These three tips can help you keep software prototyping on track, so you can get down to the business of building a great product sooner.

1. Think bike shed, not pyramid.

While software developers and designers want to build the best products possible, software prototyping isn’t about engineering a product that’s meant to endure and be robust (a “pyramid”). The purpose of the prototype is to perform a specific job and last only as long as you need it (a “bike shed”).

Here are some potential software prototyping time sinks:

  • Premature optimization
  • Gold plating (adding unnecessary features)
  • Future proofing

Always build your prototype with these principles in mind:

  • None of this will be used in the final product.
  • This prototype is meant to explore ideas and take risks.
  • It is perfectly fine if the prototype has functionality gaps and bugs — and won’t stand the test of time.

2.  Remember: Someone still cares about the color of the bike shed.

While a software prototype should be approached like building a bike shed, many people will still want to know what color you will paint it. When working on a software prototype, it’s easy to get stuck in discussions around small details, like whether the “Cancel” button should be to the right or the left of the “OK” button. Your software prototype will languish if you’re bogged down by this type of minutiae.

Make sure the product owner in your organization (typically a product manager or a business analyst) is prepared to step in during these debates and help to expedite decision-making so that the work can continue.

At the same time, recognize that many people reviewing a prototype will naturally focus more on the visual elements and less on the functionality. So, it’s certainly important for your prototype to look good; that way, reviewers can center their attention on verifying that the workflow or functionality of your product makes sense versus how it looks.

3. You don’t need to use the same tools for the prototype and the final product.

The tools developers use to create finished products are designed to make robust code that works perfectly. When you are software prototyping, however, time spent using a set of technologies for developing polished applications is time wasted.

Evaluate what you need to prove with your prototype and then use the tools that do that job “well enough” — and quickly. For example, if you want to show a series of screens and the workflow through them, a mockup tool like Balsamiq is perfect. You can create screens in minutes that might take hours in the actual development system you use. Treejack is a fantastic tool for creating and testing website navigation and seeing what works best for your users. Another standout software prototyping tool is Notable.

All of these tools allow you to quickly and easily put together enough of a software prototype for stakeholders to make decisions without having to write a line of code or get stuck debugging an obscure code problem.

Even for more complex software prototypes, it still may be enough to put together a set of web pages with basic functionality or a lightweight desktop application. But be sure to know exactly how far you need to go with the prototype so you don’t spend time that could be better used on developing the final product. 

What are your top tips for software prototyping? Let us know in the comments below.