A prototype meaning an early functioning version of a product or service is a term used in a variety of contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software programming. A prototype is usually used to evaluate a new design for enhancing precision by system analysts and users and serves as a means of providing specifications for a real, working system instead of a theoretical one. In some design workflow models, creating a prototype is the step between the formal acknowledgment and the evaluation of an idea.
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A prototype can also mean a characteristic or typical example of something such as in the use of the derivation prototypical. This is a rather useful term in the identification of objects, behaviors, and concepts that are considered the accepted norm. It is analogous to terms such as stereotypes and archetypes.
Prototypes explore different aspects of an intended design:
- A proof-of-concept prototype is used to verify some key functional aspects of the intended design but generally does not have all the functionality of the final product.
- A working prototype is used for almost all of the functionality of the final product.
- A visual prototype is used to show the size and appearance, but not the functionality, of an intended design.
- A form study prototype is a type of visual prototype where the geometric features of a design are shown with many effects, with lesser concern given to the color, texture, or other aspects of the final appearance.
- A user experience prototype is used to show enough of the appearance and functionality of the product that it can be used for user research.
- A functional prototype is intended at capturing both the function and appearance of the intended design, as well as techniques and even different scales from the final design.
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