Published February 23, 2024

Rapid User Testing: A Guide to Validating Your Prototype Quickly

11 min read

Hey there, innovators and problem-solvers! You’ve been here, right? Burning the midnight oil, crafting your new product that’ll shake the market. But here’s a kicker: How do you ensure your vision aligns with user needs? That’s where rapid user testing swoops in to save the day.

It’s the equivalent of a reality check for your product, and guess what? It’s fast, efficient, and crucial. So let’s dive into how you can get real user feedback quickly.

We loved the recent conversation around prototypes that Daniel Elizalde brought up with Alberto Onetti and Suehyun Lee’s excellent illustration. Ultimately, these prototyping methods may not need dividing lines to define them, but they serve to define the types of feedback you can collect from users along your development cycles.

Understanding the Prototyping Spectrum

Imagine a spectrum, a continuum of sorts, that showcases the evolution of your product from just a hunch to a solution ready to hit the shelves. This is your prototyping spectrum. It starts with a Proof of Concept (PoC), moves to a Prototype, then a Pilot, and finally, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Each stage serves as a checkpoint to validate different aspects of your product, with user feedback as your guiding star. Across this continuum of your product’s early life cycle, customer feedback can be incorporated through remote surveys using Helio. Here’s how we think about each prototype and how you can leverage rapid user testing using Helio.

Prototype Life Cycles showcase the idea from concept to production.

Proof of Concept (PoC): Turning Theoretical Ideas into Tangible Wins

Alright, let’s talk about the Proof of Concept (PoC). It’s the “show me it can work” phase that every groundbreaking idea must go through. This isn’t about bells, whistles, or shiny features; it’s about rolling up your sleeves and getting down to the brass tacks of feasibility. Let’s break it down:

The Purpose

The PoC is all about validation. You’ve got a concept simmering in your mind, and now it’s time to test it, with some rapid user testing. Can it be brought to life? Will it function as you envision it in the real world? It’s the first reality checkpoint your idea encounters from your brain to the market.


At this stage, think of your PoC as the blueprint of a building. It’s not the building itself; it’s the plan that shows the building can stand. You’re not looking for a polished prototype yet. Instead, you want to prove that the core of your idea is solid. It’s about grounding your flights of fancy in the soil of practicality.


So, how do you use a PoC effectively? You deploy it to answer the big questions: “Can this be done?” and “Should we proceed?”. It’s like the litmus test for your concept’s viability. You’re testing pretotypes, gathering evidence that your idea isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky but something that has the legs to stand on in the hustle and bustle of real-world application.

Remember you’re not selling yet when you’re in the PoC phase. You’re proving—to your team, investors, potential users, and maybe a little to yourself—that this idea has merit. This is your chance to address the skeptics and the dreamers with concrete evidence.

The spark ignites the development engine, providing that initial thrust to propel your project forward. Get your PoC right, and you’re not just saying “I think this could work”; you’re saying, “I know it can”, and here’s why. That’s the power of a well-executed Proof of Concept.

Helio Example

Beauty brand SkinSavvy used Helio in their mission to set up a customer loyalty program and encourage user engagement through their mobile app. To start this journey, they needed to learn what type of experiences already stand out in customers’ minds regarding loyalty programs, so they used Helio to send a proof of concept questionnaire to an audience of Beauty Product Consumers in the US.

SkinSavvy learned how their audience had engaged with loyalty programs so far, with most of them (68%) having joined one in the past:

Customer Loyalty shows you how your product is received.

They were also able to gauge early interest in their own concept for a loyalty program:

Filtering allows us to pinpoint specific datapoints.

“I usually do sign up if they offer a perk quickly enough or with low entry cost (like free shipping, $5 off or an extra freebie). If they have really high thresholds (like spend $500 for little perks), I won’t sign up.”
– Helio Participant, Beauty Product Consumer (US)

Helio helped SkinSavvy understand that interest for a loyalty program is high, with most participants (50%) saying their interest level is a 10/10. However, participants admit that they don’t always sign up for these programs with new brands, so providing enticing perks and few barriers to entry will be key to building engagement with their new loyalty program.

View the Helio Example

Prototype: The Blueprint Comes to Life

Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and craft a prototype. This is where your idea sprouts legs and starts walking. The prototype phase is exhilarating – your concept matures into a working model you can touch, see, and feel. Let’s explore this crucial phase where your idea transforms into an experience.

The Purpose

A prototype’s mission is simple: show how the final product will function. It’s the first draft of your masterpiece, the rough sketch before the fine art. You’re bringing theory into reality, translating abstract ideas into concrete functionalities. This is where potential meets practice.


Imagine moving from a sketch to a clay model- that’s what developing a prototype feels like. It’s more sophisticated than a PoC – it’s interactive, functional, and makes things real! Your prototype will be the sandbox where you play, experiment, and iterate. It’s tangible, meaning you can test, break, and fix it. Through this hands-on process, the prototype evolves, inching closer to your vision with every tweak.


So, how do you put a prototype to work? It’s all about rapid user testing – not just in the lab, but in the wild, where real users can poke, prod, and give you their unfiltered opinions. It’s a time for refining, not just for the product, but for your understanding of the users’ needs. Your prototype won’t be flawless, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a learning tool, a place to spark customer conversations, and a proof point all rolled into one.

Don’t be fooled – a prototype isn’t a final product. It’s not ready for the market, and it doesn’t need to be. It’s a vital step in the journey where you’re ironing out the kinks and paving the path to a solution that users will love. This stage is less about the “wow” factor and more about the “how” – how will your product work in the hands of your users? That’s what your prototype will tell you.

Product Future

In essence, the prototype is your first chance to interact with your idea in a physical form truly. It’s where you validate your assumptions, gather rich feedback, and set the direction for your product’s future development. So prototype boldly, test rigorously, and refine relentlessly.


SkinSavvy tested their mobile app from multiple angles using prototypes. As new features on the platform were completed, such as book a consultation on the map page, the flow was placed into a prototype for rapid user testing in Helio:

Direct Success measures how well your customer was able to navigate your product.

As participants attempt to complete the flow, Helio tracks the direct success (participants who only clicked once on the correct action), indirect success (those who clicked around and eventually found the right action), and failure.

Direct success can be low since SkinSavvy’s consumer app provides multiple places to engage. Hence, the expectation is that they click around and explore a bit before landing on their ultimate goal. The fact that 99% of participants found that the ultimate goal is a great sign for the usability of the Set Up a Consultation flow.

This test type also allowed SkinSavvy to gather qualitative feedback about each flow after participants had completed it:

Leverage prototypes to mock up your examples.

Some participants mentioned a need for more pertinent info to be connected with the provider locations they see on the map:

“I think when choosing what service you want, a short sentence like “refresh your skin” or “clear your pores” could give a good idea as to what each service entails even if someone doesn’t know too much about skincare or treatments.”
– Helio Participants, Beauty Product Consumer (US)

With their prototypes revealing potential user comprehension and usability pitfalls, SkinSavvy could iterate on their designs and maintain their high usability marks while providing more information about their audience’s needs.

With confidence in their designs, they could move on to their pilot program and test the full experience of their new app with live users.

Pilot: Taking Your Product for a Test Flight

Buckle up! It’s time to enter the pilot phase, where your product leaves the nest and takes its first tentative flights in the real world. This is the trial run, the dress rehearsal before the big premiere. Let’s navigate through this pivotal phase where your product meets its first real users and the environment it’s meant for.

The Purpose

The pilot’s purpose is straightforward yet profound: to see how your product fares outside the controlled development environment. It’s about dipping your toes into the market without taking the full plunge. You’re testing the waters with a lifejacket, ensuring you dive in confidently and ready.


The pilot stage is like the soft opening of a restaurant. It’s your product, but in a whisper, not a shout. You’re engaging with a small, select group of users experiencing your product daily. They’re the pioneers, the first to navigate your drawn map. This phase is crucial because it’s not just about whether they like the product but how it integrates into their routines and solves their problems.


What’s the pilot phase good for? Think of it as your reality check. It’s where you discover if your product is user-friendly, if it’s meeting needs, or if it’s maybe missing the mark. It’s a chance to observe how your product lives and breathes in the environment it’s meant for. You’ll see how it stands up to real-world challenges and, more importantly, how real people interact with it.

This phase is not just about user feedback; it’s also about operational insights. How does your product hold up logistically? Are there any unforeseen hurdles in deployment? The pilot phase helps you iron out these wrinkles before you’re in the full glare of the market spotlight.

Voyaging Forward

The pilot phase is your product’s first voyage into the real world. It’s a controlled experiment that’s less about the laboratory and more about life. It’s where you gather the intel to give you the green light or send you back to the drawing board. So, launch your pilot wisely, observe keenly, and listen even more closely. Your rapid user testing insights will chart the course for your full-scale launch.

Helio Example

To put it all together for a test flight of their app, SkinSavvy had 100 participants navigate through the onboarding flow, land on the dashboard, and complete the initial skin survey that they find there.

Since the team had already conquered usability issues in their prototype testing, this pilot run was focused on separating and evaluating sentiment after each step in the flow:

Compare sentiment analysis to pinpoint how your audience feels.

Experiences like the onboarding and welcome screens performed well, with most participants (up to 78%) landing in the very satisfied and somewhat satisfied buckets.

The dip of up to 15% satisfaction in the skin quiz was due to lack of experience and understanding of what the outcome from the quiz might look like. Since a gap of more than 10% satisfaction is significant, this is a sign that the team needed to improve the expectations that users have going into the skin quiz:

“It was simple to click through but some questions I couldn’t answer due to lack of relevant options.”
– Helio Participant, Beauty Product Consumer (US)

The team was able to make quick changes to the flow of their user journeys using this test and learn method, preparing them for their essential first release in the MVP phase.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP): The Essential First Release

Welcome to the MVP stage, the debutante ball for your product where it makes a grand entrance, albeit in a simplified form. This is where you put your product to the ultimate test: the market itself. Let’s unpack the MVP and its vital role in the journey from idea to full-fledged product.

The Purpose

An MVP has a singular, laser-focused purpose: to get your product into the hands of early adopters quickly. It’s about delivering on your idea’s promise with a version built to satisfy, not dazzling. The MVP is your product saying, “Here I am. I can solve your problem.” It’s about starting the conversation with your users and getting those critical pieces of feedback.


Think of the MVP as the skeleton of your final product—the bones are there, but it’s not fully fleshed out. It has everything it needs to function, to be viable, and to provide value, but it’s not dressed up with all the bells and whistles yet. This is intentional. The MVP is refined enough to be taken seriously by early adopters. Still, it’s also a canvas ready for the layers of paint that will come from user feedback and iterative development.


The MVP is your market probe. It answers crucial questions: Are we on the right track? Do users see the value in what we’re offering? What should we improve, add, or even remove? Launching an MVP means not only saving on development costs; you’re investing in learning. Every piece of feedback is a gold nugget that helps you refine your product roadmap.

This stage is also about agility. With an MVP, you can pivot without the weight of a fully developed product on your shoulders. It’s about being nimble and responsive to the market’s voice. You’re building a dialogue with your users, and their responses will guide the future of your product.

In essence, the MVP is both a beginning and a continuation. It’s the first full expression of your product’s potential and the starting point for its evolution. Launch your MVP with clarity about what it is and isn’t, and be prepared to listen, learn, and adapt. This is where the real adventure begins.

Helio Example

SkinSavvy organized a limited launch of their new app to skincare providers who already carry their products. Upon release of the app, the Helio team sent 5 of their advocates to engage in secret shopping and uncover early pain points in the usage of their MVP.

Use quotes to show stakeholders exactly what your audience is saying.

The Helio advocates tested the new SkinSavvy app by scheduling appointments through the new platform, following through with in-person treatments, and observing interactions around the app between providers and customers.

After reaching out to 30 beauty providers each through the app, and following through with a treatment, Helio advocates conducted interviews with each participant to understand their user experiences:

Understand experiences with feedback.

The most impactful insight in this ethnographic study came in hard data, with only 25% of beauty providers contacted through the app responding.

Interviews with the participants also revealed that completing customer transactions through the app was anything but smooth, with 4 out of 5 providers handling loyalty discounts outside of the platform after treatment.

Bumps in the road are to be expected with early product releases, so the difficulty of SkinSavvy’s MVP release can be alleviated through consistent communication with its customer base. With constant customer feedback, SkinSavvy can turn its minimum viable product into a maximum business opportunity!

Prototypes are the lifeline of innovation

Think of rapid user testing not as a mere step in your product’s journey but as its lifeline. It infuses your developmental strides with the vitality of real-world feedback, keeping your project relevant and resonant with the needs of the time. It’s akin to having a foresight mechanism, a window into the very hearts and minds of your future users—decoding their desires, needs, and preferences.

We’re eager to hear your voice in this evolving conversation. And if you’re poised to shoot into the dynamic frontiers of rapid user testing, we’re here to support you. Let’s collaborate to navigate the stars of user feedback together. Ready to accelerate your testing journey?

Rapid User Testing FAQ

What is a Proof of Concept (PoC) in rapid user testing?
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PoC validates the feasibility of your idea before fully committing to development. How does a Prototype differ from a PoC? A prototype is an interactive, functional model to test and refine your product’s user experience. Expect to gather evidence that your idea has practical potential and user interest.

What is the purpose of a Pilot in user testing?
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The Pilot tests your product in real-world conditions with a select user group to identify practical issues. Transition to a Pilot when your Prototype is functionally sound and ready for real-world user interaction.

Why is an MVP important in product development?
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An MVP is launched to early adopters to provide immediate value and gather feedback for future iterations.

Can a Prototype be considered a final product?
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No, a Prototype is meant for testing and is not a market-ready version of your product.

How can rapid user testing impact my product development?
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It provides essential feedback that aligns your product with user needs and market demands. Rapid user testing can be adapted to various product types to ensure they meet user expectations effectively.

What should I focus on when testing an MVP?
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Concentrate on market fit, usability, and user engagement to inform product evolution.

Build something your users truly want