Advantages of prototyping from a psychological point of view

Enhanced communication does not only affect the product costs

Photo by Jack Moreh, Freerange Stock

In software or design development, prototyping was shown to enhance communication between team members and customers, to provide early user feedback, and to save a lot of time and money. These advantages are well known and have been presented in several blog posts (see below) already. However, there are also psychological aspects build upon these advantages which are rarely considered so far. In 2012, a study from Elizabeth Gerber and Maureen Carroll investigated the psychological effects of low-fidelity prototyping in a large high-tech firm and made very interesting findings: Involving prototyping highly increased the team member’s motivation and self-confidence, resulting in a reduced development time of one quarter of the estimated time.

Increased motivation

Prototyping allows to split large problems into small tasks, as it does not require to consider all dependencies from the beginning. Therefore, creating prototypes is a quick and easy process which consequently allows to complete single tasks in a short time. The ease and productivity provides a feeling of success and progress which increases the motivation in the team.

This is even more reinforced by an enhanced communication due to the prototype. The proverbial “a picture is worth a thousand words” also holds for prototypes as they visually explain an idea or concept and avoid the need to describe it elaborately. An increased effectivity and efficiency of communication accelerate the whole iteration cycle. This is not only of high value for the development of the product, it also contributes to the feeling of progress perceivable for all team members. And whenever one feels that there is is actually something happening, there is a huge increase in motivation and speed.

In the study by Gerber and Carroll, the estimated development time of two years decreased to six months when low-fidelity prototyping was included in the development process.

Higher self-confidence in own abilities

Prototypes can be used to collect feedback from users, managers or stakeholders. Many prototyping tools even have user testing features integrated but also without this feature, they are well suited for user tests or presentations during the development process.

In Gerber and Carroll’s study, the continuous feedback through prototyping provided a feeling of certainty and control to the team as uncertain decisions could quickly be confirmed or discarded. Because of short iterations between feedback, failure was not feared anymore, but recognised as a necessary part of the process and even seen as an opportunity for learning. Thus, creating prototypes in the development process resulted in an increased self-confidence in the own skills and abilities of the team members which additionally had a positive influence on the team’s motivation.

According to psychologist Albert Bandura, persuasion of one’s own abilities consequences in greater effort and commitment to a given task and also influences the goals one sets.

Less attachment to the own work

A third aspect addresses the emotional connection to the product in relation to the time spent on the own work. This aspect was not tested in Gerber’s and Carroll’s study, but has been reported in connection with the integration of early user tests in the development process. The more time one person spends on the own work, the harder it will be to discard it again.

Prototyping reduces the time a person has to put into a project until a decision can be made because feedback can be gathered early.
 If a person already spent half a year coding on a product and the user test then shows that the concept doesn’t work out, it is very unlikely that she throws everything away and starts all over from the beginning. Rather would she try to reuse parts of the code, so that the previous work wasn’t for nothing. This can be dangerous if workarounds are created instead of starting again with a new and clean structure.

Including a prototype stage in the development process prevents this frustrating situation for the developer, the direct feedback from clients or managers avoids setbacks when a suggestion is discarded and shows which direction to go next. Especially low-fidelity prototyping and wireframing do not attempt to get the solution right in the first version and promote quick feedback loops instead, that’s why they are particularly suggested in the early development stages.

Sum up

The presented aspects show that the integration of prototyping in the development has psychological influences on the team members. The feeling of fast progress as well as the opportunity to gather quick feedback lead to a higher motivation and self-confidence within the team. The ease of continuous testing with prototypes facilitates the admission of failures which are even accepted as necessary parts of the development process.

And in the end, a more motivated team with a high self-confidence does have huge influences on the overall product and the development time as higher goals are set and the working speed is accelerated.


  • Gerber, E., & Carroll, M. (2012). The psychological experience of prototyping. Design studies, 33(1), 64–84.
  • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Macmillan.
  • Michael Lee — Benefits of Prototyping
  • Jacob Gude — Why Prototyping is Essential to Your Design Process
  • Bogdan Sandu — Every Designer Should Know The Importance Of Prototyping

Author: Vera Burckhardt

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