A prototype is the first version of your idea, a physical manifestation of what was once theoretical. Its purpose is to get across your concept, without having to build a full working model.
I like to think of it as a prop that helps tell a story to stimulate interest, discussion and feedback.
It’s not the final product and won’t work properly. It can, and should, be pretty messy. This isn’t about perfection or testing how it works – it’s about gauging the market and getting initial feedback on the concept.
Many ways to prototype
There are many ways to prototype. You can draw something, make a paper prototype, build something physical – at home or in a makers’ lab kitted out with all the latest tools. You can go digital, make a presentation, video, or an interactive mock-up using the latest prototyping tools. If you’ve got the skills you can code something – and if not you can fake it with a landing page and email sign up to gauge interest, or create a concierge version where people run around in the background to mimic the service.
Writing is one way to communicate your idea; words can ‘build’ a prototype.
You can write a blog, a story or a script to pitch your idea – Amazon gets its product managers to write a press release for their new products before they have made anything.
You can prototype writing too. Rather than spending months writing the whole thing, you can write back cover copy for a book, an advert for a movie or the trailer for TV sitcom and share with people to see what they think.
Prototyping a book
There were many prototypes of my book How to Have a Happy Hustle.
It was a workshop and a series of blogs before I even imagined I could write a book. When I had an inkling of an idea I’d like to write something, I took part in a proposal challenge to see if I could work it up into something substantial.
At each stage I got feedback from experts – Alison Jones ran the challenge and having read hundreds if not thousands of proposals she knew exactly what was needed to get the attention of an agent.
My agent shared my proposal with colleagues at the agency and got readers in the target market to feedback. I met with several publishers, each of whom had ideas about what worked and what didn’t.
I listened, learnt, and iterated the proposal until it was the best it could be. All before putting pen to paper to write the book.
The uncorrected book proof
More prototypes followed, the table of contents that I shared online for feedback, the first draft that was read by beta readers, and the uncorrected book proof that went out to reviewers.
The proof was the hardest one for my perfectionism. It looked and felt like a real book. It gave rise to expectations of being the finished thing, but it was ‘uncorrected’ – the unedited version, without the foreword, references, or illustrations.
It was imperfect and that scared me – people will read it with all its faults on display. And not just any people, my imperfect book was sent to readers who matter – journalists, reviewers, influencers.
I had to let go of perfectionism, to ship before I was ready.
Now the book has gone to print. In a few weeks’ time I’ll get the final version. It won’t be perfect, but it will be better because of all the prototyping.