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What is meant by a Proof of Concept and a Prototype?

It is common to hear reference to ‘proof of concept’ in IT circles, yet there can often be confusion regarding precisely what this term means. Indeed, proof of concept is often confused with another similar term, namely ‘prototype’. It is even customary for the two terms to be used interchangeably, even though there is a clear difference between them.

Yet it is important for us to understand the differences, as during the lifecycle of any initiative, projects will fall under both of these categories at different times. And is only by understanding the transformation that occurs at this point that we will be able to deliver the best project possible.


So it is firstly vital to define what is meant by a proof of concept. In essence, this is simply a small exercise that is intended to test a particular design idea or assumption. The main purpose of developing a proof of concept is in order to demonstrate the functionality of a concept or theory, or to verify how much can be achieved in the development process.

Prototyping is completely different, but is an equally valuable exercise. By building a prototype, an engineer or designer is able to visualise and better understand how a product will function in the real world. A prototype is an early, but working interactive model, of the end product, which gives a strong idea of the overall design, navigation and layout.

Perhaps the easiest way to define the differences between the two it to say that a proof of concept indicates that a product or feature can be developed, while the prototype indicates roughly how it ultimately will be developed.

Viability and Usability

A proof of concept is purely designed to verify the functionality of a particular set of concepts, which will then later be built into broader systems. This predates any considerations regarding the viability of the project in a real-world setting.

This has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, fully integrating a proof of concept with real-world technology is time-consuming, and can scupper the project before completion. However, errors and problems may not be fully identified by this design process, and this is why the prototype is ultimately built.

Real World Operation

A proof of concept enables knowledge to be shared openly with a design team, and for emerging technologies and innovations to be explored. Developers are essentially delivering an evidence of concept at this stage.

Prototyping represents a speedy way of bringing this concept to life, and beginning to test its viability, as well as improving on the original design. This aspect of design and also in-house documentation is vital for tech products in particular, while providing the team with an accurate time frame for the ultimate construction of the project.

Proof of concept tells teams that a project can be developed, validating the technical feasibility of the product. Whereas a prototype represents an initial attempts to deliver the final idea. Understanding both is vital for development teams and engineers alike.

If your company needs help with developing a proof of concept or a prototype, we are here to support you. Contact us and let’s meet for a free & confidential consultation.