prototype testing cover

Your team has been working relentlessly on the latest design—it’s looking great and you’re eager to get it into the hands of users. But before it becomes a reality, it’s time to get feedback and test your prototype with real users.

Testing a prototype allows you to learn rapidly and adjust accordingly, so you can launch successful products and release new features at any stage in the product lifecycle.

In this article, we take you through the step-by-step process for testing your prototype—plus, tips from product experts Caitlin Goodale and Chris Roy to make the most of your prototype testing.

Validate your designs fast—even before the first line of code

Everyone can test prototypes with Maze and collect powerful user insights before development and after launch.

What is prototype testing?

Prototype testing is the process of testing an early version of a product or feature with real users. The purpose of prototype testing is to validate the design before development starts and identify problems early on, so you can build a product that meets user needs and expectations.

Why is prototype testing important?

By testing prototypes, you gather insights on:

  • Usability and accessibility
  • Design, fonts, and colors
  • User experience (UX)
  • Copy and messaging
  • Ideas and concepts

Your prototype doesn’t have to be perfect or fully functional at this stage, but it needs to have the basic functionality to solve your users’ main problem (or represent how it will do this). You can test manually in person or through virtual tools and prototype testing software.

Types of prototypes

Depending on where you are in product design and development, there are different types of prototypes that vary in complexity, these are:

Low fidelity

A low fidelity (lo-fi) prototype is an inexpensive and rough version of your product. It could come in the form of a wireframe, a homemade paper sketch, or a cardboard 3D model (if your product is physical).

With a lo-fi prototype, you’re looking to validate concepts and design expected paths for users. You want to keep cost and effort to a minimum, so some elements won’t be finalized or even included. For example, you might include critical buttons, e.g. add to cart, while the rest aren’t clickable yet. You probably won’t have a finalized copy in this version either. Lo-fi prototype testing happens at the earliest stages of the design process.

What to test at this stage:

  • If the layout of your design makes sense
  • Which version of your design performs best
  • The hierarchy of your information architecture (IA)
  • Basic interactions with the design

Medium fidelity (mid-fi)

A medium fidelity (mid-fi) prototype gives users a more developed view of how the product will work. It can be used to test paths and gather user feedback. They can click on buttons and explore the product, and you can even test out specific user paths. Key pages will have some copy and design elements already, but secondary pages may still use placeholders. You’ll also get to review the information architecture at this stage. Since a mid-fi prototype is closer to your final solution, it’ll be more costly and time-consuming to create than a lo-fi prototype.

What to test at this stage:

  • Whether user paths match expectations
  • If you’ve incorporated user feedback properly
  • The success and usability of specific interactions and actions
  • Performance compared to benchmarks or previous versions
  • How well your copy and design work

High fidelity (hi-fi)

A high fidelity (hi-fi) prototype is more expensive to develop, being very similar to the finished product. Hi-fi prototypes should be fully usable and have all the needed buttons, copy, and menus available for the user to review. You can also review the final design, fonts, and colors at this stage. However, it doesn’t need to show all your planned features, and some clicks or paths might still feel clunky. Typically, you’d use hi-fi prototypes to conduct usability testing and final checks before launch.

What to test at this stage:

  • The design direction of a new product or feature
  • Whether the copy adds value to the user experience
  • How easy people find it to complete user tasks
  • UI components, e.g. accordions, drop-down menus
  • Graphics and design elements, e.g. image quality, text readability

What are the benefits of testing a prototype?

The biggest benefit of testing prototypes is being able to continuously iterate and launch products that accurately serve your user’s needs. However, that’s not the only advantage of this practice.

We spoke to Chris Roy, Head of Product Design at Stuart, and Caitlin Goodale, former Senior Product Designer at Memrise, to cover the top reasons behind prototype testing.

1. Find design issues

Imagine launching a product and then realizing your users struggle to find the ‘continue to checkout’ button. It’s a design flaw that has a direct impact on your revenue and is going to be a headache to solve when your site is already coded and live.

The most effective way to identify these black holes in your design is by testing your prototype before launching new features and making timely adjustments. If you’re using Maze, your team can import your clickable designs easily with the AdobeXD, Figma, Marvel, InVision, and Sketch integrations.

2. Test your hypotheses

Let’s say your checkout button is on the left side of the screen and you want to know if users find it easier to locate when it’s on the right side. This is the perfect time to test your prototype with A/B testing. “It’s worth going to the lengths of creating a prototype if you have a hypothesis to prove or debunk,” says Chris Roy, Head of Product Design at Stuart. This will help focus your efforts and make your findings more actionable.

To validate your hypothesis, run tests to answer questions like:

  • Can people navigate through the app and complete key steps?
  • Do people understand what your copy instructs them to do?
  • Does the design encourage discoverability?

Answer the previous questions at all stages of product development, and after launch, so you can continuously iterate and improve your product.

Caitlin Goodale, former Senior Product Designer at Memrise, says, “Things that seemed clear to us on the product team were often totally incomprehensible to real users.” By speaking directly to the people using the product, your team can empathize with users and identify any false assumptions or cognitive biases, prior to launch.

3. Get invaluable customer feedback early

If your customers have a negative experience with your product, you’ll get negative feedback. The best way to avoid this is by getting input from real users before you release.

Caitlin explains that her team always tries to get real users to interact with the product, “to get an early read on how the design is working, what they understand, and what they don’t”. As she experienced, prototype testing allows you to preempt problems before they become negative reviews, and understand user needs before they become poor user experiences.

4. Save a lot of $$$

The saying ‘it’s better safe than sorry’ was made for prototype testing. It’s much cheaper and far less time-consuming to fix a design in the prototype stage before release, than it is to deploy bug fixes, respond to unsatisfied users, and potentially re-release the entire product.

If you have a solid prototype testing regime in place, you can avoid the lost resources (and reputation) spent rectifying a problem that could have been spotted sooner. “It’s so important to have a broad perspective on the designs we’ve made and identify issues before we invest money and time in developing them fully with the dev team,” says Caitlin.

5. Get stakeholder buy-in

You have two options for your new product: one solves your users’ problem in less steps, the other has a longer user journey but will be faster to build. Your gut says option A would serve your user better, but understandably, the board is more likely to sign off on option B.

When you invest in A/B and usability testing for both prototypes, you get the evidence you need: your users lose interest fast with option B and tell you they wouldn’t use a product that involves that many steps. Now, you can attend the board meeting with genuine feedback and real user data—ultimately getting buy-in for the best product you can make.

4 Types of user testing for your prototype

Testing your prototype gives you access to a diverse and vast world of user feedback. The insights you get are tightly linked to the type of user research and methods you use—there are many user research methods that work for prototype testing, but here are our top four:

1. A/B testing

This UX research method consists of testing two alternative versions of your design (A vs. B) on different user pools, and developing the version that has better feedback—or creating a better new option. With A/B testing, your design team will of course need to have two options to test on real users. You can do this with any type of prototype: lo-fi, mid-fi, or high-fi. It’s helpful to conduct A/B testing when prototyping a complete application, adding a new feature, or revamping a current app or site.

✨ Product tip:

With Maze, you can run A/B tests and create custom expected paths for each version using testing templates. You can also conduct dedicated usability tests or directly test a prototype for multiple variables, including usability. Then, simply share the test with recruited users via a link, collect their answers, and get an automated report with success rates and alternative paths.

2. Usability testing

Usability testing tells you how intuitive your app is and how easy it is for users to complete certain tasks. Usability is a crucial step for any product, and it’s possible to run usability tests on any type of prototype—so you can test, iterate, and test again throughout development. There are multiple usability testing methods that allow you to test navigability, accessibility, and UI on paper sketches, digital wireframes, or clickable designs.

3. Wireframe testing

When you have a lo-fi mockup of a design—a wireframe—you can use it to test its usability and functionality. During wireframe testing, you should give your users detailed tasks for them to complete on your interface design.

You can conduct moderated or unmoderated wireframe tests and get a mix of quantitative and qualitative user insights. During a wireframe test, you’ll be able to catch issues with confusing set paths, unclear information hierarchy, or vague copy.

4. Concept testing

This term is often used interchangeably with concept validation, but while they have similar definitions, there’s a key differentiator: concept testing invites you to test multiple assumptions and ideas, and choose the ones you’ll use moving forward.

Concept validation, on the other hand, allows you to assess the feasibility of your product idea with real potential users, before starting to design and build the product. This stage is critical during prototype development because it confirms whether you’re working on the right solution, in the right way, and reveals if your product has a market fit.

✨ Tip:

Save time by filtering ideas that aren’t aligned with your business goals and target market. Here’s how to implement a successful idea screening process.

When should you test your prototype?

Testing your prototype early allows you to iterate and go to market with a tool that’s more likely to do well. As David Kelley, founder of IDEO, says: “Fail faster, succeed sooner.” But what does it mean to test early? Here are some scenarios when you should test your prototype:

When you have a low- to medium-fidelity prototype

The sooner you get users’ eyes on your design, the better. Lo-fi prototype testing happens at the earliest stages of the design process with a paper prototype or basic wireframe.

As you move onto your mid-fidelity designs, you should be taking all the user feedback onboard, polishing your design up, and beginning to add some early-stage copy. You want to really validate your concepts here—so remember to test early and often, and iterate continuously.

You can use a user testing or product discovery tool like Maze to conduct your prototype tests—create tests in minutes using a pre-built template, and import sketches from any of your preferred design tools.

When you’ve built a high-fidelity prototype

It’s time to get user feedback on your hi-fi design—after you’ve made changes in your UX design tool based on the findings of your lo-mid-fidelity tests.

At this stage, you’re confident with your design—any big issues have been solved during earlier tests. You shouldn’t be looking for huge UX flaws, instead, use this stage to truly validate your final iteration and uncover any hidden usability issues before handing over the designs to the development team.

When you’re launching a new feature

Product iterations also start with a prototype. Don’t wait until you have the perfect design to conduct user research. Instead, test your new feature sketches, conduct a card sorting test to identify the best place to add it to your site, and wireframe to test navigation to the new feature.

Plus, once you have a hi-fi prototype, you can launch the new feature for beta testing. That way, you can get real customers to engage and give feedback. Get insights on:

  • How your feature performs in real use cases
  • Whether or not you’re meeting users’ expectations
  • How easy it is for your customers to use the new feature
  • Where your users expect to find this functionality
  • Whether the instructions are clear

Prototype testing that secures buy-in

Discover the metrics that truly matter and collect impactful user insights that validate designs with key stakeholders.

How to test a prototype in 10 steps

Right—it’s time to test your prototype and start collecting insightful product information coming from users. Here’s how to get started:

1. Know exactly what you’re testing for

Clarity is key here. What exactly are you looking to test? Define clear and measurable testing objectives so you get the actionable key results you’re after. For example:

❌ “I want to test my prototype”

✅ “I want to find out if people can book a hotel through my prototype in under three minutes”

❌ “I want to see if people like the design”

✅ “I want to see if users can navigate with ease through my app and get a SUS of over 70”

❌ “I want to know if the copy is engaging”

✅ “I want at least 10% of survey respondents to say they’d make a purchase after reading the copy”

Determining your test goals early on allows you to give specific direction to designers on the type of prototype they’ll need to build.

2. Pick a user research tool

Before you even create the prototype, choose a user testing tool that allows you to conduct the type of research you need. For example, if you want a tool that allows you to conduct a wireframe or complete prototype test using a clickable design, you could consider Maze—a usability testing tool that lets you evaluate multiple aspects of your design. And if you want to see and hear from your users as they go through your test, use Clips to get qualitative and quantitative feedback on your product.

3. Create the prototype

This is the moment to let your design experts go to work. Brief your product and design teams on the type of test and objectives:

  • If you’re doing lo-fi prototype testing, your team will create a sketch on paper or online in its most basic form (a mockup or wireframe)
  • If you’re working with a mid-fi prototype, you’ll want a developed design with clear functionality, but it’s okay if design elements aren’t all there yet
  • If you’re at the hi-fi prototype stage, designers will likely be using a UX design tool like Figma or Sketch to create an interactive prototype that's as close to the real product as possible

4. Choose the right audience

User research is only valuable if the users in question are the right people for your product. Choosing the wrong audience can cause you to make product decisions based on irrelevant data, or provide incorrect assumptions about your product.

For example, if you were launching sales software aimed at salespeople aged 60+ who are less tech-savvy, you’ll need to target that demographic when recruiting test participants. Testing the same tool on sales reps with an in-depth understanding of new technologies might result in an overcomplicated app for your real target market.

If you’re launching new features on a live product, your team should run tests on a mix of current and new users to gather more realistic insights. “Generally, you want a diverse group of testers reflecting the different personas within your product—but remember, often people who are not currently users might become them,” explains Caitlin. When you’re building a new product or feature, testing with a range of personas will highlight any pain points that could stop you from reaching a larger audience.

5. Choose your testing method

When selecting your method, refer back to the first step and the goals you’re trying to achieve with your prototype test. For example, if you want to test your product copy, it doesn’t make sense to conduct a card sorting test. Think about:

  • Which testing method allows you to validate your objectives?
  • Do you need to conduct moderated or unmoderated research?
  • Will you invite users to test in-person or remotely?
  • What kind of data and usability metrics are you looking to collect?
  • Do you need to test multiple product areas at once?

If you have a physical product with specific supervision required, it might be necessary to invite users to an in-person location, however, this can be a costly way of testing. For those of us in the digital world, it’s quicker to use a remote research tool like Maze which helps you gather insights from users globally.

6. Give people a clear objective

It’s critical that your team knows how to create test scenarios. Each task needs to be clear and drive action, e.g ‘Show me the steps you’d follow to sign up to the app using a Gmail account’ or ‘Schedule a meeting with three team members’. Encourage people to speak aloud as they attempt to do it.

You can approach a test as task-based or exploratory. In both cases, I like to be as open and informal as possible, allowing the candidate to move through the product in a way that feels natural to them.

Chris Roy, Head of Product Design at Stuart

Encourage your team to create more detailed scenarios that share a story so your users feel drawn into the situation, and have the full context before performing a task. Paint a picture, for example, if you were testing a food delivery platform:

“It’s a Saturday morning and you’re in the mood for brunch. You don’t feel like cooking so you choose to order in. You don’t want to spend over $20. Choose a restaurant that will deliver to your house in under 30 minutes.”

This gives your user the opportunity to take their own path as they test your prototype. Different people will interact in different ways.

Pro tip ✨

Here’s how to write great usability tasks to drive actionable insights and truly understand how people are using your app.

7. Pick the right questions to ask users

When conducting prototype testing, your team has the chance to ask usability questions that will give you even more insight—make sure they know how to ask the right research questions to get effective feedback. You can ask questions in moderated sessions or through user surveys.

For a whistle stop tour of how to ask effective questions, watch this video:

Otherwise, here’s a breakdown of questions you can share with your team to ask at different stages of prototype testing:

During screening

  • How much time do you spend online each day?
  • Have you ever used our website/app before?
  • What industry do you work in?

Before the test

  • Have you used any products in [industry] before?
  • What type of product do you use to do [action]?
  • How confident are you with doing [action]?

During the test

  • What did you think about the [X] experience?
  • How was the language used on this page?
  • Can you tell us what you think of [X]?

After the test

  • What did you like the most/least about this product? Why?
  • Would you use such a product to do [activity] in real life?
  • What would you change about the product?

Product tip 💡

Need to start research fast? Check out the Maze Question Bank, our open-source question repository of ready-to-use questions.

To wrap up the session, Chris recommends asking “What one thing would you improve about [X]?” because it's specific and encourages honesty. He explains “People tend to be overly polite even after a horrendous session,” due to social desirability bias. “They will often answer ‘it was okay' when asked general questions, like ‘How did you find that?’. By framing it more concretely and requesting they change one thing, it helps them to be more honest.”

8. Launch your test

Before you launch the test, ask your team to do a trial run with a colleague or friend to check if the set-up works as expected, and all your questions make sense, before heading to the real-world test.

If you’re hosting moderated sessions, sit through the session and ask timely questions. Rewatch the meetings, highlight insights, and come up with a report. Or, if you’re hosting unmoderated and remote sessions, simply send out the test link to your participants and wait for the results to roll in. If you’re using Maze, you can contact your participants directly from the app through the Reach feature, or use In-Product Prompts to recruit testers straight from your website.

It’s always interesting to see how others see and use your product. Despite all your best guesses, it’s always very humbling to see people use your product in new ways which no-one had even considered.

Chris Roy, Head of Product Design at Stuart

9. Share the results

After your team comes back to you with responses and you analyze the test results—it’s time to share them with other key stakeholders. Whether it’s good—cue the celebration!—or not so great—cue the commiseration…—you now know what you need to improve. You have a direction for how to adjust the UI and UX, and iterate to get closer to your product launch.

It’s important your team collects all user research in a shared location so everyone can access it and avoid making similar mistakes in the future. “Centralize your results and distribute the highlights to the team—testing done in a vacuum is useless,” explains Chris. “Distill the best parts of research and make sure everyone from sales to marketing to engineering knows all the interesting things you just found out.”

10. Remember to check in with your users

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: discovery happens all the time—it’s not just during concept validation or prototype testing the initial sketch of your application. Testing prototypes through continuous research keeps you in close contact with your users, building solutions that truly work for them.

Plus, you can bet your competitors are always improving their platforms, adding new features, and simplifying workflows. So testing and iterating continuously gives you a competitive advantage that will help you maintain and grow your user base.

After you’ve launched your product, remember to conduct Live Website Testing to see how your real users interact with a published version of your site. That way, you’re always putting your user’s interests at the core of your business, and continuously delivering value.

Wrap-up: Tips for prototype testing

It’ll take a few tries to really nail your prototype testing process. With practice, you’ll learn how to lead your team to conduct prototype testing at pace, continuously. If you’re still feeling a bit unsure, here are our top tips to shorten that trial-and-error period:

  • Ensure everyone on your team knows exactly why you’re conducting each test
  • Determine the right user personas so your team can contact and filter participants
  • Make sure your prototype is as interactive as it can be at each stage
  • Test the prototype with friends or non-design colleagues before testing externally
  • Foster an agile mindset and get your team to recruit your users as quickly as possible
  • Share findings with other department heads to ensure product alignment
  • Invite your team to test continuously throughout the lifecycle for better final results

If you’re looking for a product discovery tool that allows anyone from the product team to conduct research at any stage of the development process, try Maze. With Maze, your team will be able to run multiple user testing methods and get results within hours.

Validate your designs fast—even before the first line of code

Everyone can test prototypes with Maze and collect powerful user insights before development and after launch.

Frequently asked questions about prototype testing

What are the testing methods for a prototype?

There are multiple prototype testing methods including:

  • A/B testing
  • Wireframe testing
  • Paper sketch testing
  • Usability testing
  • Card sorting
  • Surveys

Why is prototype testing done?

Prototype testing is done because it helps product teams identify design flaws and inefficiencies early on. Testing early with real users allows teams to create better and more successful products. But, prototype testing can happen at any stage of the product lifecyle. In fact, testing continuously and validating new features before and after launch allows you to deliver products that your users will love.

What are the 4 steps of testing a prototype?

These are the 4 steps to testing a prototype:

  1. Determine clear and measurable test objectives
  2. Create a prototype (lo-fi, mi-fi, or hi-fi)
  3. Run the test on real users
  4. Gather feedback and make adjustments

What are the 2 types of prototype models?

There are 2-3 types of prototype models:

  • Low to medium fidelity: an inexpensive and rough version of the product. It can be a wireframe, a homemade sketch, or a cardboard 3D model. Or a slightly more produced version that’s closer to the final product. Allows you to validate concepts and design expected flows and paths
  • High fidelity (hi-fi): an expensive version of the product, it’s very similar to the final version, it takes longer to produce and it’s more detailed. Allows you to test usability

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