A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process.[1] It is a term used in a variety of contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software programming. A prototype is generally used to evaluate a new design to enhance precision by system analysts and users.[2] Prototyping serves to provide specifications for a real, working system rather than a theoretical one.[3] In some design workflow models, creating a prototype (a process sometimes called materialization) is the step between the formalization and the evaluation of an idea.[4]

Prototype signage on the Boise Greenbelt, testing for rust, paint-fastness, durability, etc.
A sign explaining prototype signage

A prototype can also mean a typical example of something such as in the use of the derivation 'prototypical'.[5] This is a useful term in identifying objects, behaviours and concepts which are considered the accepted norm and is analogous with terms such as stereotypes and archetypes.

The word prototype derives from the Greek πρωτότυπον prototypon, "primitive form", neutral of πρωτότυπος prototypos, "original, primitive", from πρῶτος protos, "first" and τύπος typos, "impression".[1][6]

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