Rick Farrell by Rick Farrell

Pros and Cons: Throwaway prototyping vs. Evolutionary prototyping

  • Prototyping

Prototyping is a vital stage for any development team. What is the purpose of a prototype? Well, it’s the first real chance for the team to see how their work is progressing and identify any potential problems before they become an issue.

There are many ways to prototype a new product, but for this article, we’ll focus on two methods, throwaway prototyping and evolutionary prototyping. 

Throwaway Prototyping

Throwaway prototypes aren’t as common as they used to be, especially as we move towards more sustainable ways of working, but it is still useful in some situations. 

These types of prototypes are developed from the initial requirements but they are not used for the final product. As the name suggests, these prototypes are designed to be disposable. They purely represent where the project is at a specific point during development.

Throwaway prototyping enables development teams to quickly create a prototype and commit to throwing the prototype away. This allows the team to get quick feedback on the product from testers, stakeholders, or end-users. The feedback can be used to identify any changes that need to be made to the product or the way the team is working. 

Some view throwaway prototyping as an inefficient way of testing features, as you’re dedicating time and resources to something that will ultimately end up in the trash. However, this method of prototyping is perfect for the early stages of development. 

It is inexpensive and can save money down the line by catching key changes early. For example, if the team is exploring a large number of ideas for features, they can make and dispose of prototypes of each feature, without putting a big dent in the budget. 

Evolutionary Prototyping

Evolutionary prototyping is one of the most fundamental and commonly used forms of prototyping.

Essentially, the development team will create a prototype as if it was the final product. As development continues, the prototype will be updated (or evolved) until the development team and product owner deem it ready for release.

This style of prototyping is much more thought out compared to throwaway prototyping. The prototype is built with specific and well-understood requirements with the intention to use it again later down the line. 

As the team is building an evolutionary prototype, they’re looking to make it as robust as possible, starting with the most visible features. This type of prototype can be used to demonstrate specific features and open a dialogue for potential changes or new features that should be added.

Which should I use?

Both types of prototyping can be extremely useful for design teams looking for valuable feedback, but each has its pros and cons.

Throwaway prototyping is a cheap, easy way of creating prototypes, especially for UX design. Developers can mock-up paper versions of the process before having to write a single line of code. This allows testers to try a range of different workflows and identify which works best. Changes to paper prototypes can be as simple as throwing away one sheet of paper. Simple, cheap and effective. 

Unfortunately, throwaway prototyping can waste a large amount of time as teams can spend more time than they have to try every single possibility. This can be concerning to higher management or stakeholders, as there appears to be no evidence of work during that time. The prototypes are discarded and there is no documentation that shows what happened during this period.

Evolutionary prototyping involves far less waste as the prototype is reused and adapted throughout the process. The initial prototype may look nothing like the final product, but it will take testers through the intended workflow to find potential improvements. 

The downside to evolutionary prototyping is that it can cost far more than throwaway prototyping. Everything in the prototype is built as if it was the final product. This can make it tough and expensive to change the features that have already been committed.

Thunk puts design first

We could just design a product for you and walk away, but that’s not how we work at Thunk. We’re here to help your business refine its design teams and elevate the role of design throughout the organisation. Contact us today to find out how Thunk can transform your digital services and your company.