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.
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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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