Rapid Prototyping

Authours: Jeff Ranson & Margaret Lahn
Edited by Christine Keene


Innovations communicated verbally are often difficult to imagine. Since they are abstract ideas, it is difficult to get a sense of what they will look and feel like.


Rapid prototyping is the act of creating a low-fidelity object for the purpose of testing a concept. Through rapid prototyping, a designer is able to quickly test and adapt a design with minimum investment in time and the cost of failure.

Used When

During solution design, Rapid Prototyping allows for concept testing, accelerating the innovation process.

Used For

Prototypes are built using anything at hand to mock up rough concepts, giving form to early ideas and hunches. The purpose of the building is to think, to understand existing experiences and user needs, and to move abstractions into tangible objects with a low initial production cost. Ideas are explored, and learning occurs faster by failing earlier and often. Permission is granted to experiment, try and stretch. Ideas are communicated and shared to enhance the team’s understanding. This method quickly moves thoughts into concrete objects for discussion.

Rapid Prototyping facilitates an iterative process:

design > build > test > feedback > adjust

“The purpose of rapid prototyping is to demonstrate possibilities quickly by building an inexpensive series of mock-ups so designers are able to obtain early feedback from which they may respond to user requirements. This is particularly true in the following three types of situations: (1) cases that involve complex factors, which can make predictions difficult; (2) cases already examined by conventional methods without satisfactory results; and (3) new situations, which do not offer a lot of experience to draw from (Tripp and Bichelmeyer, 1990).”


1) Materials – The tools used for rapid prototyping of non-product applications are usually chosen for flexibility and affordability as well as ease of use. This is critical to keeping the initial design and redesign costs as low as possible.

  • Paper and Pen – Almost everyone has access to these and understands how to use them
  • Mock-up Software – This can be very inexpensive and requires some knowledge, but it is optimal for multiple redesigns.
  • Whatever’s around – Create 3D or special representations of design components

2) Sample prototypes

  • Paper Mock-ups
  • Storyboards
  • Simple physical models
  • Role Playing Scenarios
  • Idea Cards

3) Session – The process can be self organized by a team of designers, or it can be facilitated. If the design team does not include customers/end users, a way to gather feedback on the prototypes from users will be required.

4) Record – A way to document feedback and ideas is beneficial but not necessary. In some cases, feedback will immediately be captured in a modification or a new, rough prototype during the session, so extensive documentation may not be necessary.

5) Analysis – Feedback and micro failures during rough prototyping inform direction and refinement, which can move the process into the Pilot phase.

Baek, C. B. (2008). User-Centered Design and Development. In M. J. Spector, D. M. Merrill, J. Van Merrienboer, & M. P. Drescoll, Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (pp. 660-668).

Rudd, J., Stern, K., & Isensee, S. (1996). Low vs. High-fidelity prototyping debate. Interactions , 76-85.

Tripp, S. D., & Bichelmeyer, B. (1990). Rapid prototyping: An alternative instructional design strategy. Educational Technology Research and Development , 31-44.