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Vertical Prototyping 

What is it?

Vertical prototypes demonstrate the exact functionality of a product but for only a small section of the entire product. For example, a vertical prototype of a word processor might demonstrate all of the spell-checking functions, but none of the formatting or text-entry functions. All of the functions in a vertical prototype mimic their real counterparts as much as possible.

How do I do it?

Since a vertical prototype needs to be practically fully functional (although just for a small portion of the product interface), perhaps the best way to obtain a vertical prototype is to use a fully functioning module of the product. For software programs that are written with a modular architecture, this can usually be done, although the interfaces to other modules won't work (ok in this case, as it's strictly the given section's functionality that will be tested or inspected, not other sections). For a car, it could be the seating and other interior furnishings that will be tested, while the drivetrain, body, sensors, and other components that aren't ready yet.

When should I use this technique?

Use this technique when the design for a particular section is rather complete and merits testing as a contiguous unit. Even though other portions of the product aren't ready for testing yet, you can determine problems with a particular portion while the others are still in an earlier phase of development.

Who can tell me more?

Click on any of the following links for more information:

Nielsen, Jakob, Usability Engineering, 1993, Academic Press/AP Professional, Cambridge, MA
ISBN 0-12-518406-9 (paper)

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