Too often, building digital products is a slow, time-consuming process that results in lots of time and resources wasted.

For someone running a lean startup, the last thing you’d want is to invest a ton of time and resources into a build that turns out not to be what your customers need. What’s worse: Building and rebuilding new iterations in your actual product can become messy and create a lot of technical debt over time.

The solution: Start with a product prototype.

What are prototypes? 

Prototypes are a visual representation or model of your product, designed to test a concept, validate your user flow or functionality, and communicate the UI and UX of your product. 

Just because your product is a digital one, doesn’t mean you need a prototype any less than you do with a physical product. 

“Prototypes are lightweight ways to test out a concept before committing it to your product. Building and rebuilding in your actual app can become messy and create tech debt over time, so you can minimize that by starting with prototypes.” — Maria Posa, Bubble Development Manager

That said, digital products do add some special considerations to the prototype development process. In this article, we’ll show you how to create a product prototype, step-by-step. We’ll also break down why thinking differently about the prototyping process can help you build faster, grow your audience, and scale efficiently. 

Why is prototyping important? 

Prototyping is essential for startup founders looking to create a web app or software. The benefits of creating even basic prototypes are massive. For example, prototyping can: 

  • allow you to test and validate your ideas sooner
  • reduce the amount of resources wasted on trial and error during the product development process 
  • improve efficiency for build times and product development 
  • allow for quicker product launches 
  • provide clearer communication of your product idea to your team and potential investors

But prototyping a web app isn’t always the most efficient route you can take. 

It may sound like we just said the opposite — but the difference lies in what type of prototype you create and how you use it. Here at Bubble, we think of product prototypes a little differently than most — and we think you should, too. 

How we think of prototyping differently (you should, too) 

Traditionally, a product prototype is designed for short-term use. They may be built to:

  • validate a product idea or concept 
  • perform early user testing, or
  • get stakeholder or investor support 

Once these purposes have been fulfilled, they’re tossed out as the development team works to build the actual, functioning product. 

A lot of the process for prototyping digital products has been taken from the standard process for physical prototyping. Before you can move into mass production of a physical product, you need to create a visual prototype. Then, you’d create a physical version with the help of computer-aided design tools and iterate on your product idea until you could settle on a final version that’s ready for the standard manufacturing process. 

This all makes sense if you’re creating a physical prototype, but in the digital world, this process isn’t‌ very efficient at all. Digital products benefit from a much more rapid prototyping process that incorporates the prototype, and its iterations, directly into the final product. 

At Bubble, we’re making it possible for you to ditch disposable prototypes and MVPs for good. 

With Bubble, you can build a no-code prototype that has real functionality right from the start. With a working prototype, you can reduce your launch and product development timelines and seamlessly iterate on your prototype to build your finished product. 

You don’t have to spend a ton of time and money on something that’s just going to be tossed. Instead, start with a functional prototype that’s more like a V1 of your product, and build iteratively upon it to develop your product. With Bubble’s robust no-code tools, doing so is easier and faster than ever. 

How to create a prototype for your web app 

It’s time to get into the weeds of how to‌ build your own prototype for a web app. If you’re looking for a way to make a prototype for a mobile app, check out our guide to prototyping mobile apps instead. 

Otherwise, read on for a simple, step-by-step process to build an effective prototype. 

1. Start with research 

No matter what type of prototype you’re building, starting with your users is going to be the most effective and efficient strategy. 

After all, you want to make sure you’re creating a product and functionality that reflects what your target market actually needs and wants — not just what your team thinks they need or want. 

User research should ideally explore the available market and your target audience, what their needs are, and what the competitive landscape looks like. What gaps exist in other tools available?   

Once you have a good idea of what your target audience needs, you can define the biggest problem your product can solve. From there, you’re ready to move onto the practical details. 

2. Sketch out your design 

If you haven’t done any work on your prototype yet, you don’t have to start the process within a digital tool. Sometimes pen and paper are the best place to start before moving your design to a higher-fidelity software. 

Either way, at this stage, you really want to keep things simple. This was a piece of advice commonly echoed among product leads and developers we spoke to: 

“Keep it simple. Your prototype should focus on core functionalities and the user journey. Avoid getting bogged down with high-fidelity details too early, and instead use prototyping as a tool to explore ideas and gather feedback. This isn’t to say I’d advocate for poorly designed products. But we’ve seen that clients who have a bigger bias to action also end up being more successful with their projects.” — Rodrig Naska, Product Lead at Revido 

So don’t get stuck trying to present the most polished, perfected version of your product right away. Instead, focus on first creating a simple sketch to show the design, functions, and features of core elements. For web apps, you want to focus on key elements such as: 

  • core web pages needed to complete the primary task 
  • basic design of UX and UI 
  • the databases, logic, and workflows needed to complete the primary tasks

3. Choose a prototyping tool that can do the heavy lifting for you 

Once you’re ready to start building your digital prototype, you want to choose the right tool for the job. Ideally, this is a prototyping tool that can: 

  • do the heavy lifting for you right now, in the prototyping stage, and 
  • scale with you as you grow 

For example, hard-coding a prototype isn’t a great idea. It’s much more difficult to build and iterate once your product is fully coded, vs. in a flexible prototype. Coding also requires you to design and build everything from scratch, which is too laborious for the prototyping stage. 

“In the beginning, don’t waste time and resources on custom designs. Instead, use pre-built components that meet your needs.” — Arthur Kieffer, Founder and CTO at Cube

However, many prototyping softwares don’t allow you to iterate and include real functionality to build your app, meaning they can’t scale with you. 

Bubble provides a visual, no-code editor that can scale with you from prototypes and MVPs to fully-fledged products and IPO. Even better: pre-built UI components, templates, and more make it even faster to get your ideas built and start testing them with real users. 

You’ll also want to consider if your prototyping tool offers low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototype features. For example, Bubble’s visual editor can easily be used for low-fidelity wireframing. However, it also offers everything you need to build out high-fidelity designs, functionality, workflows, logic, and more. 

Low-fidelity vs. high-fidelity prototypes: which do I need? 

Low-fidelity prototypes 

High-fidelity prototypes

Limited to static wireframes and pages

More closely resemble your actual product 

Illustrate the look and feel of your product (more design-focused) 

Illustrate features and functionality (may or may not actually be functional) 

Usually provide little or no information about navigation, animations, or page interactions 

Can include audio, video, animations, and even workflows and basic logic and conditions to simulate your actual product 

Better for early-stage idea visualization and validation 

Better for user testing and investor demonstrations 

Most helpful for communicating ideas, aligning on product direction, and wireframing for your design and dev teams 

Most helpful for testing user experience and functionality, ensuring feasibility and further iteration 

Once you know what type of prototype you need, choose a tool that can support you — ideally, long-term — and get ready to start building. Not sure where to start? Check out our list of the best prototyping tools to pick one that's right for your needs

4. Design your prototype 

Finally, you’re ready to start creating a prototype. Start by building out your design. 

Remember: you don’t have to build everything from scratch. Pre-built components can save tons of time, and can always be customized and iterated on later (at least within Bubble’s platform). 

“For most products, you should use a design framework to create your UI instead of trying to build it from scratch. These frameworks represent best design principles that have been developed and refined over many years and products.” — Vlad Leytus, co-CEO of Airdev

Moral of the story: don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. 

Instead, try to spend more time working on designing the interactions, user flows, and functionality of your web app. The closer your prototype can be to the real thing while still being flexible and iterable, the better. 

If you’ve already started your design in another tool, like Figma, you can import it from Figma to Bubble in just a few clicks to jump right to adding functionality and features. 

“The most important step in building a prototype is ensuring it accurately represents the key functionalities and user flow of the final product. This means focusing on the interaction design and user experience aspects to validate the concept before moving into more resource-intensive development stages.

The prototype doesn't need to have the most beautiful design or many bells and whistles, but it should be representative enough of the planned product so that the feedback on it can be relevant.” — Rodrig Naska, Product Lead at Revido 

Whether you build out actual functionality (as on Bubble) or simply input animations to demonstrate it, make sure you are able to accurately navigate through and have basic interactions with your web app before moving to the testing stage. 

5. Test, test, test 

User testing is important at all phases of product development, but especially so once you have a functional — or semi-functional — prototype in hand. 

At this point, you can get valuable user feedback. From there, start to iterate on your prototype to solidify and improve your actual product. 

Keep in mind there are tons of different ways to go about testing your prototype. The two main distinctions to keep in mind: moderated vs. unmoderated user testing. 

Moderated user testing can happen sooner in the testing process, since you can walk users through your product “in a lab,” even if it isn’t functional. But, unmoderated testing is more valuable.  You can get more information on what exactly users want to do with your product, and how they try to accomplish those tasks on their own. 

Either way, make sure you’re clear in advance about what you’re testing. 

“Understand what exactly you want to validate, be it the color schema, the logo, the slogan, the brand name, or a function. Focus on conscious learning, rather than on abstract observation.” — Vlad, Co-Founder at Zeroqode

When building on Bubble, gathering user feedback and iterating on it is even easier. You can use plugins such as Optimizely or Mixpanel for gathering user feedback and then iterating directly on your prototype. This allows you to build and improve future versions of your product right from your prototype. 

Even better: you can keep unmoderated tests, like A/B testing, running as you build and iterate, making the continual process of learning and iteration even more seamless. 

Get started building your prototype for free 

Now that you know what makes prototypes so essential and how to build one, what are you waiting for? Building your prototype on Bubble makes it easier than ever to get your idea out into the world and start testing it with real users.

Many Bubble users have built and launched prototypes — or beta versions of their app — in just a few months using Bubble. Much, a community-based budgeting app, built and launched their beta version in two months. And BluBinder’s co-founders built and launched their initial app on Bubble in just a few weeks. 

Don’t waste time or resources building a prototype that’s just going to be discarded later. Build on Bubble, and iterate seamlessly from prototype (V1) to fully-fledged product.