We’re a tech company and, as such, we’re guilty of bandying about all manner of acronyms, initialisations and esoteric terminology. Can we take this opportunity to say we’re sorry (in our defence, we didn’t start it)!

To make amends, we’d like to clear up something we’ve been asked about a few times lately.

What’s the difference between a prototype, MVP and a mock-up?

MVP stands for ‘Minimum Viable Product’. Silicon Valley people started saying it, and some clients started asking for it; but, really, it’s not a new concept to us.

The key thing with developing an MVP is that you’re making a conscious effort not to attempt to create an all-singing, all-dancing solution on day one. Just create something that works, which serves the core purpose, which people will engage with, and take it from there.

This then creates a golden opportunity to raise revenue (or awareness, depending on your goal) early on, and – critically – to gain real-world feedback. That, for us, is the secret sauce.

A prototype is something different altogether. A prototype does not necessarily need to work as such. What it really needs to do, is allow you to get a sense of what the real product could be, could feel like, or how it might work.

Ideally, a prototype for a digital solution should be interactive. It should be something you can click around and navigate (at some level) between screens. If you can’t, then what you’re really dealing with is simply what we would call a mockup – which may be all you need in some situations. Other than that, it doesn’t need to be rich in functionality.

We’re on a roll now, so we may as well clear up a couple of related terms.

A proof of concept (PoC) can be closely related to a prototype. The key with a PoC is that there will typically be one aspect that you’re keen to establish some certainty around. So, that part of the prototype will need to be functional and testable, whereas the rest may simply be there to provide context and add some structure to the UI (Aaagh! Sorry! User interface). That is, the stuff you see on screen.

Proof of concept can sometimes be used to describe the need to verify interest and engagement with the product or service. But, really, that’s testing the market. That’s when we’re back to the MVP. See, it all makes perfect sense.

When to use which?

If you want a working system that you can roll out to real users, then it will need to be an MVP rather than a prototype. An MVP is a fully working system, with the appropriate levels of security and core functionality to boot. It’s just that you wanted to get the product shipped and in use early, so some features will wait until later. So, an MVP needs to be built using a real ‘tech stack’ with a database, and other techie things going on behind the scenes.

If you’re at an early stage and the main goal is to engage stakeholders and give them something visual and tangible so that they buy into the idea, then a prototype might be more than adequate. Typically, a development house or digital agency will be able to create a clickable prototype in a tool such as InVision, UXPin, or even good old fashioned HTML and CSS. Equally, these tools can be used to create simple mock-ups, only becoming as interactive as time, budget and will allows for. Or, if you like, you can draw a mock-up on paper.

We hope that’s cleared things up a bit. If you’d like to enquire about bringing your digital product idea to life with a prototype or MVP, then get in touch. We’re all ears!