Whether it is an app, a website or a simple infographic, the journey of designing a product goes through several stages. The best approach to evaluate aspects such as if the design is user-friendly is to develop an almost identical working model called a prototype and have it tested with real or a representative sample of typical users.
Prototyping is a technique to model and evaluate what works and is fit for purpose in helping users achieve their goals when using your product. In this process, you create what can be seen as a real working mockup (as opposed to a static one). You share it with the clients and prospective users to collect feedback as well as evaluate its functioning. From feedback and evaluation, you make improvements and iterate the process until you get the final design that is aesthetically pleasing while at the same time intuitive and effective enough for users to be able to achieve their objectives. The advantage of building a design prototype is that it helps you keep cost low while saving you time and effort. In other words, a prototype lets you analyse the “behaviour” of your design and any evaluate and implement changes required to make it even better.
This article explains how prototyping can benefit your designs.
1. Exposing the Key Areas of Improvement in Your Design
You have a great design on your mind. It would be different as you put it down on the paper, right? Generally speaking, a remarkable idea can be terrible if you visualise it on a piece of paper or a computer screen. Prototyping lets you see how it looks and feels. This way, you can spot the areas that need improvement in your design. You can figure out the flaws in your design even before the actual development process. The great news is that you do not even need prototyping software. Even a piece of paper – the most basic example of prototyping will get you far.
2. Helping You Iterate Quickly On Design Concepts
Iterative design is no more a buzzword. In this process, the product is tested and evaluated at different stages of design to address flaws before the actual launch. In simple terminology, iterative design is all about improving and polishing the product in development stages. Many savvy designers use prototyping tools to simplify this process. For example, prototyping helps you find out if tweaking or changing the entire part can work (and that is too quickly).
3. Helping You Get Funded
Prototyping can come in handy if you are trying to impress investors so that they can fund your design. With a prototype, you can visually demonstrate functionality that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible to explain in words or using static mockups. It lets investors check and evaluate the appearance, behaviour, and feel of your proposed solution. Besides, prototyping helps investors connect with your design. It shows that you are serious about your proposition and have put a reasonable effort to communicate to potential investors how your solution works – not just how it looks.
4. Making It Easy For Non-Technical Clients To Understand
Very often, your client will be someone who does not understand or is not interested in knowing the underlying technical aspect of your solution. What matters to them is the visual aspect – the “graphical” screen so to speak. How will you impress them, or at the very least, explain your design? Prototyping is an answer. They will grasp the different screen elements more easily. They can figure out which button can do what or why this frame is there.
5. Reducing Development Time And Cost
Even a minor tweak at the last minute hampers the entire development process. Re-coding the design is annoying and eats up much time as well. Moreover, what if the issues occur in the post-production phase of development? Apart from the obvious fact that companies have to pay developers to fix issues, there are also additional costs associated with campaigns and settlements as well. This is how even those minor tweaks in crucial stages cost you valuable time and money. As I stated earlier, prototyping lets you edit and customise even before any actual development process has been done.
6. Helping You Choose The Suitable Variant
It is likely that you will have different design ideas to address the user’s problem. So, there are several variants to choose from to nail the best one. What if you have to choose between a drop-down menu and a list of links in vertical order? Which one of them would make the design easy to use and at the same time appealing? Although it majorly depends on the information architecture, in this case, prototyping can simplify that comparison process at much extent. You can test the look and feel of different combinations and layouts until you come up with the optimal one.
7. Testing The Responsiveness Of A Design
With responsive web design, your website can run smoothly on all devices irrespective of their screen size. Modern prototyping tools let you see if the design is working seamlessly across all the screens. You can create a prototype for different screen and OS combinations as well. Once the prototype is built, you can download it and test it on real devices to check screen compatibility more realistically.
8. Creating A Robust Feedback Circle
Interacting with a prototype is similar to interacting with the actual finished product. Therefore, designers can use the prototype to get valuable feedback to improve the final product even before its development has commenced. You can send the prototype to select users (or representatives of the user groups you are targeting) ahead of time to get valuable feedback. Alternatively, you can share the design process in the prototyping tool with them so that they can drop their feedback instantly. Indeed, prototypes are useful for visual presentations to get feedback from clients or stakeholders. These highly realistic models can minimise doubts and misunderstandings when it comes to gathering high-quality feedback or reviews.
9. Keeping You Focused
Designing is a complicated process, whether you are doing it for a mobile app or a website. Concentrating on the outcome in such scenarios is downright essential. The process is all about confirming your concept, not small-scale details. It helps you take valuable insights so that you can move to the next stage without having doubts on the mind. Rapid prototyping requires you to be more focused, prompting you to put the user in the centre of the process.
Prototypes help you communicate the look and feel of a design solution. However, a prototype should not be looked at a post-production product. Remember, it is designed to test the features, behaviour and appearance of a product in the development stages. The feedback and information you get from prototype testing are essential in creating and launching a successful design.
To make the most of prototyping for design, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Choose the right prototype. Use high-fidelity prototypes for non-technical clients as it is almost close to the final design. Low fidelity prototypes are great to explain design solutions at the earlier stages. A paper prototype is very useful if you want to give a quick overview or flesh out some concepts with the client.
- Simplify user interactions as much as possible, by for example utilising fewer clicks.
- Regularly test your prototype with real users.
- Try to use actual content instead of dummy text (such as “loremipsum”).
- Make sure to keep prototypes as user-friendly as possible so that the users can understand the things in one go (without much explanation from the designer.)
- Last but not least, invest in the right app prototyping tool.
(Lead image: Depositphotos)