MVP vs Prototype: Core Differences Explained

published on 28 February 2024

When embarking on the journey of creating a new product, understanding the difference between an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and a prototype is crucial. Here's a straightforward breakdown to guide you:

  • Prototype: A basic model used to explore the design and functionality of a product. It's about testing the concept without building the full product.
  • Focuses on design and usability
  • Often used internally for improvements
  • Can be as simple as sketches or digital models
  • MVP (Minimum Viable Product): A functional, simplified version of your product released to actual users. It aims to test market demand with the least effort.
  • Contains essential features to solve a core problem
  • Seeks to gather user feedback for future development
  • Targets potential customers to validate market interest

Quick Comparison

Criterion Prototype MVP
Purpose Test design/usability Test market demand
Focus Internal improvements User feedback
Complexity Low to medium Medium to high
Audience Designers, Developers Potential customers

Choosing between a prototype and an MVP depends on your project stage, goals, timeline, and resources. Start with a prototype to refine your idea's design and functionality. Move on to an MVP when you're ready to test your product's viability in the market.

Understanding the Basics

What is a Prototype?

Think of a prototype like a rough sketch of a product. It's a basic version used to see if an idea works or looks good. Prototypes help figure out if we're on the right track without spending too much.

Here's what makes up a prototype:

  • Narrow focus: It's all about checking specific parts or how users might move through the product.
  • Simple design: It doesn't have all the fancy looks or full features yet.
  • Changes often: Based on what users say, it gets tweaked and improved.
  • Not the final piece: It's okay if it gets thrown out; it's part of the process.

Prototypes let us test out ideas quickly and cheaply. They help teams work together better, avoid adding too much too soon, and save money before making the real deal. You can make prototypes in many ways, like:

  • Simple sketches on paper
  • Digital outlines without much detail
  • Clickable versions that feel more real

They're all about trying things out early without big costs, to see what might work.

What is an MVP?

An MVP, or minimum viable product, is like the first real version of your product that people can use. It's made to learn from how real users interact with it. The idea is to start small with just the main features, then improve it based on what users say.

Here's the deal with MVPs:

  • Just the essentials: Focuses on the most important parts that need testing.
  • Driven by learning: The goal is to see what works and what doesn't, using real data from users.
  • Team effort: Needs people from different areas working together.
  • A starting point: It's the beginning of making your product better over time.
  • Ready for users: It's made for real people to use and give feedback on.

Unlike a prototype, an MVP is a basic but working product. It helps figure out if your idea is something people want. It's all about learning from users to make sure your product meets their needs and wants.

Core Differences Explained

Purpose and Scope

Prototypes and MVPs have different goals and cover different areas:

  • Prototypes are all about checking if a product's design and how it's used make sense. They focus on specific parts or ways people might use the product.
  • MVPs are about seeing if people actually want your product. They include the main things your product needs to work and solve a basic problem for users.

Prototypes ask: Can users get this and will they like it?

MVPs ask: Will people actually use or buy this?

Target Audience

Prototypes are mostly for the team making the product:

  • Designers look at the look and feel
  • Developers check if they can build it
  • Product managers make sure it meets what's needed

MVPs are for potential customers to see if there's real interest:

  • Collect thoughts from a small group of users
  • Talk about what features they like and how much they'd pay
  • Look at how many people are interested in the MVP

Development Process

Prototyping includes:

  • Starting without a detailed plan
  • Being open to changing features
  • Quick rounds of making and testing
  • Not spending a lot
  • Making changes as needed

MVP development needs:

  • Clear goals and a plan
  • Just the essential features
  • More time to get it right
  • Enough money to make it happen
  • Making it better after getting it out there

Feedback and Iteration

Prototype feedback is about:

  • Seeing if the design works
  • Watching how users try it out
  • Fixing any problems found

This leads to quick changes as needed.

MVP feedback is about:

  • Checking if there's a market for your product
  • Understanding if people would pay for it
  • Deciding what to do next based on how people use it

This leads to focusing on improving the main features before adding more.

Cost Implications

Prototypes help save money by:

  • Using simple sketches or digital outlines
  • Not needing to code everything
  • Testing with the team making the product

MVPs need more money at the start to create something that works:

  • Planning well, using resources wisely
  • Spending on the most important features
  • Getting enough money ready for launch

But, MVPs help avoid wasting money by making sure people want your product before going all in.


When to Use a Prototype vs an MVP

Choosing between making a prototype or an MVP really depends on where you're at with your project and what you're trying to achieve. Here’s a simple guide to help you decide:

Use a Prototype For:

  • If you're just starting and still figuring out what your product is all about.
  • When you want to see if your design ideas work well or if the tech side of things is doable without diving deep into coding.
  • If you need to show what you're thinking to others, like people who might invest money in your idea.

Prototypes are great for trying out your ideas in a basic way. They let you focus on the design and tech without worrying about the full product yet.

Use an MVP For:

  • When you have a clear basic idea and you want to see if people would actually use and pay for it.
  • To get your product out to a few users early on, so you can hear what they think and make it better based on their feedback.
  • When you’re ready to take a bigger step and see how your product does in the real world.

MVPs are about seeing if your business idea has legs, with a simple version of your product. They take more effort and money at the start, but they tell you a lot about what works.

Decision Factors

Think about these things when choosing between a prototype and an MVP:

Project Stage

  • Just starting: Go with a prototype to nail down your idea.
  • Idea’s solid: Use an MVP to check if people like it enough to use or buy.


  • Want to learn about the tech or design: Prototype.
  • Need to know if your idea can make money: MVP.


  • Quick show-and-tell: Prototype to share your idea.
  • Ready for user testing and feedback: MVP.


  • Tight budget: Start with a prototype.
  • Some money to spend: Go for an MVP.

Match your choice of prototype or MVP with where you're at in your project, what you want to achieve, how much time you have, and your budget. Change your approach as your product grows.

Case Studies

Here are some real-life stories of how companies used prototypes and MVPs to create their products:

Prototype Case Studies

Drawing the First Version of a Hotel Booking App

A team wanted to make a new app for booking hotels. They started by drawing the main parts of the app on paper. This helped them figure out the basic steps a user would take to book a room. They showed these drawings to hotel workers to check if the process was easy to understand. This early version made sure they were on the right track.

Making a Clickable Model for a Social App

A startup had an idea for a new app where teens could send video messages to each other. They made a model of the app that wasn't real but looked and worked like it would on a phone. People testing it could click on things and see how it would work. This model helped find problems with the design and also helped get the money needed to make the real app.

MVP Case Studies

Starting Small with an Online Course

An entrepreneur made a basic version of her online course website with just one course to see if people would buy it. She told her email subscribers about it, and enough people bought the course to show it was a good idea. This simple first version helped her decide to add more courses.

First Steps for a Meditation App

The Calm app, which helps people meditate, started as a simple version with a few free sessions. The creators shared it with their close contacts to understand what users really wanted. The feedback from these early users helped them focus on making the app better. Three years later, Calm became a huge success.

Key Takeaways

  • Use simple drawings to test your ideas before making the whole app.
  • Start with a basic version of your product to see if people like it.
  • Always listen to what users say to improve what you're making.

Both prototypes and MVPs are important steps in making something that people will want to use. Knowing when to use each one can help you build better products.


Key Takeaways

When we talk about making new apps or products, prototypes and MVPs are two tools we use, but they do different things. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Purpose: Prototypes help us see if an app or product is easy to use and looks good. MVPs help us find out if people actually want to buy or use the product.
  • Audience: Prototypes are mostly for the team making the product to look at. MVPs are for real users to try out.
  • Process: Making a prototype is all about trying things quickly and seeing what works. Building an MVP is more about planning and making sure we have what we need.
  • Feedback: With prototypes, we're looking to make the design better. With MVPs, we're checking if the product has a place in the market.
  • Cost: Prototypes don't cost much to make. MVPs need more time and money.

Start with prototypes to work on the design and how the product works. Once you've got that figured out, move on to an MVP to see if your product idea will catch on with users.

Choosing the Right Approach

Think about where you're at with your product before choosing between a prototype and an MVP.

If you're just starting or working on design ideas, go with simple prototypes like paper sketches or basic digital wireframes. They're cheap and quick, and they let you test your ideas without much hassle.

When your product idea is more solid and you're ready to see if it'll sell, it's time to put in the effort to build a real MVP. Get it out to a few potential users, listen to what they say, and tweak your product based on their feedback.

Choosing the right path at each step, whether it's a prototype or an MVP, depends on what you're trying to achieve, how much time you have, and what resources are available to you. As your product grows, the feedback you get will help you make smart choices about what to do next.

What is the key difference between an MVP and a prototype?

The main difference is a prototype is all about trying out how a product looks and works in a simple way. An MVP, on the other hand, is a basic version of the product that people can actually use to see if they like it.

Prototypes are for testing ideas; MVPs are for testing if the idea can make money.

What is the difference between prototype and MVP?

A prototype is used for checking out a product's design and if it's possible to make it. It's about exploring design and technical stuff without making the real thing yet.

An MVP is a simple version of the real product that checks if people are interested in it. It focuses on the must-have features that solve a user's problem.

What is the difference between MVP and PoC prototype?

A proof-of-concept (PoC) prototype is about showing that it's possible to make a product idea. It's mainly about seeing if the tech side of things works.

An MVP takes it a step further by testing if people actually want the product. It's about getting real feedback from users, not just showing that you can build it.

What is the difference between prototype and demo and MVP?

A prototype is a basic version to test how a product might work. A demo is a presentation of how an already made product works to get people interested.

An MVP is a product that's ready to go but kept simple. It has just enough features to solve a problem and see if users will want more.

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