Mockup vs Prototype vs MVP — what’s the difference?
Product development — from vague idea to final product — is a process which involves many phases that can (and should!) be broken down into a number of smaller steps.
Today, we’ll focus on the design phase, namely on: mockups, prototypes, and MVPs. These terms seem to be confusing for many, especially for those who are creating a product for the first time. However, they differ greatly in definition.
But before we start to go over any of these phases, you should first familiarise yourself with yet another concept — the wireframe. This is the most schematic outline of a product interface, without any styling.
Once a wireframe has been prepared, both the designers and developers can use it as a point of orientation for more advanced steps to come.
Simply put, this is a lively version of the wireframe — with an additional layer of colour schemes, icons, spacing, navigational visuals, typography, and some placeholder content. It allows the graphic designer to see how all of the components work together. At this stage, everything can be easily modified, without having to turn the entire project upside down over any particular piece of software. It’s the best time to test and experiment on your design. More importantly, mockups don’t include any functional elements. They are more like screenshots — ready to be handed over to the developers.
- Realistic outline
Mockups give us a general idea of what the project will look like, revealing both its strong points and potential issues (e.g., accessibility). The latter can be spotted and fixed in no time, without having to edit any code.
- Power of persuasion
Presenting mockups to investors can definitely be more persuasive than just talking about your ideas. Mockups show them what the product will look like and how it can be used. Plus, it’s an opportunity to gain valuable initial feedback.
- Landmark for developers
These mockups tell the developers exactly what they should be working on. This allows them to focus on bringing the project to life by adding a layer of code.
It’s based on wireframes and mockups, and focused on functionality. The prototype represents a sample version of the product — one that is truly interactive. That’s why it requires usability testing in order to get any user feedback. The prototype can also be used to attract new investors and show stakeholders how the project is progressing.
- Starting point for estimates
It is only when you have a working prototype that you can estimate how much time and money you will need to release an MVP (see below), followed by more advanced versions of the product.
- Tool for experimentation
Prototyping gives you the opportunity to test and experiment on your wildest ideas without having to bear too many costs. You can quickly create something clickable, collect feedback, and then make any necessary adjustments.
- Faster time-to-market
Once your ideas have been verified and validated, and the prototype has been modified in accordance with user feedback — further product development usually goes much faster and way more smoothly than it would have without this phase. Your development team won’t have to do any backtracking to make disruptive project changes since any potential issues would have already been detected and fixed earlier. They can move forward, knowing exactly the direction in which they should proceed.
It includes just the core functionalities but still delivers value to early adopters whose role it is to test the product and provide feedback, allowing the product to quickly achieve a good product-market fit. The MVP should provide users with enough value to either use it or buy it. It should also offer a glimpse into future benefits, so that early adopters will continue to stick with the product and also recommend it to others, organically. Although the MVP only provides users with one or two key features, one thing is certain — these features should be absolutely refined in every detail! And last but not least — every MVP should be equipped with a mechanism for collecting feedback, which is essential in terms of further development.
Building the MVP is way less expensive than developing a fully-fledged product right away. After all, it’s not called “minimum” for no reason. Plus, taking such a cost-effective approach prevents the product from becoming too complicated for users to digest. Adding more features, iteration by iteration, is a well-known risk-mitigation strategy.
- Multi-factor testing and verification
By launching an MVP, you can verify your business concept and market demand, as well as test your UX solutions. It gives you the opportunity to react quickly when something doesn’t seem to be working as well as it should.
- Better understanding of a target audience
Getting to know the needs of your customers is an endless process, and the MVP can help you understand what they expect from your product. Also, it’s a great way to build a relationship with them early on. You can make your first users feel special by granting them early access to new features every time you want to release an update, so that they feel important and needed.
Wireframes, mockups, prototypes, and MVPs — it all seems like a lot of work but… this is actually the most efficient way to design and develop a product. Well-established processes make the project run smoothly and prevent everyone involved from making costly mistakes. Plus, taking small steps instead of one giant leap results in better focus, less confusion and misunderstandings, and greater job satisfaction for the entire team.