27.Apr 2021

Four Pretotyping Methods to Put Your Idea to the Test

What is Pretotyping and How Does It Work?

In the late 1980s, computers could only recognise a few spoken English words, but IBM nevertheless invited people to a test. Persons spoke into a microphone, and what they said was displayed on the screen as written text. The testers did not notice that the dictations were typed conventionally on the keyboard in the next room. They found the electronic dictation system practical and gave IBM a reason to continue to pour millions into researching speech recognition and developing the first voice services.

Such tests with fake technology are a method of pretotyping and help companies to better evaluate ideas and customer benefits. The term combines the words “pretend” and “prototyping” and was coined by Alberto Savoia, a former engineering director at Google. His book “Pretotype it” was published about ten years ago and describes various methods of pretotyping.

Pretotyping Benefits

With pretotyping, founders and entrepreneurs can test the marketability of their ideas without large financial outlays and, above all, in the shortest possible time. This preliminary stage of testing answers the main question, “what should be developed or offered at all?”. Pretotyping does not answer how offers should be designed, expanded and developed. These questions will be clarified later with the help of initial prototypes.

Fail Fast and Bring the Right Offer to Market

Pretotyping Learnings
“Fail fast and put time, money and energy into products that are really worthwhile” is the lesson that can be learned from pretotyping. Behind this stands the experience that start-ups and companies can fail grandly, especially with unique, unknown product ideas because potential customers don’t need the planned offers or because they don’t understand it. By testing innovative ideas for functions, techniques or services, startups and enterprises gain more security and sales arguments, and at the same time collect initial data about their new market. This in turn helps to convince future employees as well as investors.

4 Methods to Test the Marketability 

There are different methods to present and test products, techniques, or services that do not exist yet.


Fred Flintstone drives his prehistoric car by moving his feet. Therefore, simulating new techniques that do not (yet) exist is called Flintstoning. The method is mainly used to show digital functions that are actually performed by people in the background, like IBM did with its first electronic speech recognition system.

Fake Door 

New products and offers can be explained and described online on websites or in videos to explore actual interest or even need. Restaurants and web shops can use this method to test new offer ideas or companies like Google to test new products. The search engine company first showed the view through its planned VR glasses in a Youtube video and in passing asked who would pay 1500 dollars for an exploration kit for VR.


Those who want to optimize existing products or expand their own market segment can use the pretotyping method Pretend-to-Own, also known as Impersonator, Impostor or Re-Label. For this purpose, buy or borrow similar products from others, cover them with your own logos and packaging, and offer them on a test basis. This way, you can test the reaction to new products or different packaging. But beware that using Pretend-to-Own methods too often can destroy trust with your customers.


The Pinocchio and the Stripped Tease give first practical impressions of a new product. The Pinocchio is a featureless version of the product that can be used to observe reactions and initial user behaviour, while the Stripped Tease is a rough prototype with real initial functions. These pretotypings are the starting point for further iterative development and optimisation.

Pretotyping offers a wide variety of measures for trying out new ideas or optimisation strategies. Speed is important here, the test environment should be up and running in a few hours or a day if possible and show immediate results. The tests focuses on the reactions of potential customers to an offer or how they deal with new products or devices. Pretotyping relies primarily on observation, sometimes also on surveys. Those who test in this way should plan what they really want to know and must not overload the test.

Digital media –websites, communities or videos – offer many opportunities to advertise new offers without obligation, to arouse needs and to ask about experiences. Those who find interest for their new things not only have good arguments for investors, they can even have their first prototypes and small series pre-financed by customers. And they usually gain further insights: During the fake test with the dictation system, IBM noticed incidentally that the speech quality of the testers deteriorated during a dictation, too, that background noises worsened the text result – with these insights, their own research and development could be optimised.

If you have any questions on pretotyping, our experts are happy to help!