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"first model?"

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What are they?

First try; alpha model; test concept; demonstrator: a prototype is all of these, irrespective of whether you're working in digital media or rocket science (sic).


Typically, a prototype is characterised by possessing all necessary features but not all sufficient ones.

That is to say, it is intended to suffice for a particular purpose, which may lie anywhere along a contiunuum from ugly and highly functional (qua a typical Microsoft application, LOL) through to beautiful and entirely non-functional (qua a design).

Prototypes are (supposed to be) throw-away things, but the importance attached to this disposability varies. Sometimes prototypes are highly detailed, richly interactive and only a whisker from what the "final" thing will look and behave like. Other times prototypes barely struggle above the non-functional: a clickable wireframe is a prototype, for example.

What're they for?

When done properly, prototypes are intended to test concepts and ideas. Indeed, their primary utility is the quick exploration of ideas in a "throw-away" form.

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