The key differences between an MVP and a prototype (and why it matters)

By Hans Lambert Pederson

What’s the difference between an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and a prototype? And why establishing a firmer understanding of the two concepts can help you build a valuable digital product without making costly mistakes.

At Stoked, we work with companies that are bringing new digital innovations to the market. Early in the process, the topics of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and a prototype comes up. People often treat these two concepts as synonyms, but they are not.

The problem is if a company attempts to build an MVP with a feature-focused approach and the wrong understanding of the two concepts, they will end up with a prototype and waste a considerable amount of money.

To shed some light on the topic and ensure you stand every chance of building a valuable digital product, here are some critical points you need to consider.

Is an MVP the same as a prototype?

An MVP and a prototype are completely different. A prototype is a means of testing your initial ideas and the assumptions of your digital product, not the product itself.

In contrast, an MVP represents a usable version of a digital product with a core feature or features to test and gather vital feedback and build on that.

The main difference between a prototype and an MVP is that the prototype is meant to be thrown away. You may be able to reuse it, but the fundamental aim is to test something. That can be technical, in a proof of concept, or it can be user-focused on a clickable prototype built with wireframes.

The prototype aims to increase your understanding of aspects of the domain. For instance, you may want a proof of concept to test some technology on the market or a clickable wireframe to see what customers think.  

The MVP is supposed to be something you can build on and evolve to fill more of the needs of the market. It’s meant to be ready for the market, not just a vehicle to get more knowledge or test something.

The key differences between an MVP and a prototype at a glance

  • An MVP tests the digital product, whereas a prototype tests an idea.
  • A prototype is testing the concept. An MVP assumes the core concept is required and is testing product features.
  • An MVP is fully functional and practical, whereas a prototype focuses on the part of the solution you want to test
  • A prototype can act as a foundation for the MVP design. It can validate underlying assumptions and the value of an idea before taking it any further.

An integral part of building MVPs you must remember 

The MVP is often much more expensive to build than the prototype, and rightfully so. When you build a Minimal Viable Product, you should be creating something you believe adds value to the users and the market.

The MVP must not turn into a prototype – i.e. something you throw away. If your business approaches an MVP with a feature-focused approach and forgets to think about the user experience (UX) and aesthetics (the user interface), it won't meet market expectations.

An MVP needs to be:

  • Easy to use
  • Great to look at
  • Enjoyable to use day in, day out

If you focus on adding as many features as possible to the MVP, you end up making assumptions about what the market needs. As a result, you’ll risk creating an MVP that’s a prototype, which will cost a lot more money and damage your reputation in the process.

To build something of notable value, you must understand what you need to learn. If you want to test concepts and feature ideas with the market, invest in a simple prototype. But if you know what your market needs and not what you think they need, you should be looking at building an MVP. Remember, an MVP is something ready for the market, can be continually built on and delivers value to your users.

If you can master the difference between a prototype and an MVP, you’ll stand every chance of building a valuable digital solution that surpasses the traditional product lifecycle and remains on budget. 

Create a prototype or MVP that serves your needs

To build an MVP or prototype that brings your business success in the long run and doesn’t result in costly mistakes, you need to work out what’s right for your business.

It’s important to invest in the right people from the start. If you need a hand with the execution and transformation of your concept into an MVP or prototype, speak to Stoked. Our team have a proven track record in helping businesses make the biggest impact with their apps and SaaS platforms.