The concept of prototyping is nothing new. Prototyping for a better User Expereince (UX) is still gaining traction in some businesses, especially in Enterprise space. Let's explore the benefit that introducing something as simple as prototyping can bring to your company.
Prototyping has been around for a long time. Consider the automotive industry for example. Or architecture. Can you imagine either of those industries dumping time and money into development of their products without first having a rock-solid blue-print? By prototyping a product and getting valuable feedback to answer expensive questions first, companies can gain better insighth into whether their idea will be profitable and avoid expensive mistakes along the way caused by incorrect assumptions.
As in other industries, prototyping web or software solutions doesn't just help designers set the stage for delightful user experiences for customers; it also gives the other parties involved in delivering the product a way to explore outcomes that impact them as well. Consider who else in your company might be involved in the successful launch of a new product or feature: project stakeholders, developers, system adminstrators, marketing, and sales teams to name a few. All of these people benefit from the results of prototyping.
There are a lot of ways you can prototype for web or software products, from quick sketches to fully-polished concepts demonstrating animation transitions and engaging user interactions. How do you decide which method to use and when depends on your team, your company's processes, and your goals.
Let's quickly review some tried and true prototyping methods at your team's disposal. Prototyping can also sometimes be explained in terms of fidelity, which means the degree of accuracy with which the visual representation of something is reproduced. Low-fidelity would be a low degree of accuracy whereas high-fidelity would be a high degree of accuracy. We're going to go from low to high fidelity in our prototype examples, but it's also worth noting that you can use various levels of fidelity within each of the examples below.
Sketching is the utlimate prototyping approach. It's usually executed in a very low-fidelity fashion. There's no faster way to turn an idea in your head into something you can show your customers or team members and begin getting feedback. And because sketching is so cheap and fast, you're less likely to get attached to the result, which makes it easier to throw things away that aren't working while focusing on improving idea, not your sketch. Once you have something on paper that makes sense, you can easily (and cheaply) get some basic and early feedback. Sketching should always be in your prototyping toolbox.
There are a handfull of tools out there for creating wireframes. Some try to mimick the fast nature of sketching, and some allow you to get very detailed. What is common across most wireframing tools though, is that you'll usually leave out most, if not all, aspects of branding and visual design polish. Wireframing can be a step after sketching, or you can dive right in. So, while wireframes may usually be slightly higher in fidelity than sketches, the goal is still to quickly demonstrate the completeness of an idea for the sake of soliciting feedback from internal or external parties before spending valuable time and money building the concept.
In the software industry, mockups tend to describe a more visually-complete representation of an idea than wireframes and sketches do. Some use the words mockup, prototype, and wireframe interchangeably, but I'm using the word "mockup" to describe a representation of a product that is mostly or completely thought out visually, including branding, style and overall visual consistency.
When used for prototyping purposes, mockups are a hot topic. This is largely due to the amount of time and effort required to create them, especially when it comes to designing for the web. When designing for the web, the idea of painting a pretty picure that may not be accurate of the final execution of your mockup can be misguiding in some cases. However, for many other platforms that don't use a web browser as their primary method of viewing the product, spending time on visually-rich mockups still end up being a good investment if done for the right reasons. Deciding whether to use mockups at this level really depends on your team, your customers and your purpose for creating them. For example, if one of the primary purposes of your prototype is to demonstrate the ability for a customer to be able to customize the style, color, layout, or typeface of something, this level of fidelity in a prototype would likely solicit feedback that would be much more valuable than if you just used a mockup. Also consider that aesthetic and motion can invoke emotion. So if your goal is to get feedback about how something "feels" to use, you may go to these lengths during the prototyping phase to confirm if you've hit your mark, or if you need to change directions.
Sometimes it's very important to get a prototype into a browser or onto a real device sooner than later. So, whether you're using low fidelity wireframes or the high fidelity mockups inside a browser or device, you're still allowing a user to engage with it in the same physical manner that they would if it were the real thing. The level of prototype fidelity you use in native prototyping can have a large impact on the feedback and reaction of users or aid in the conceptualization and buy-in from internal team members and stakeholders. With that said, there's no reason you can't load a low-fidelity prototype onto a phone and let your users try it out. Flicking through a series of images with your hands rather than using a mouse can make even a low-fidelity prototype feel more real to a user.
Regardless of the fidelity level, the feedback gained from prototyping in the native space where the product will eventually live can be very valuable for your team before deciding to build something.
Start prototpying in your company!
As we mentioned earlier, the concept of prototyping is nothing new. We understand the importance of proving something is a good investment before spending a lot of time and money on it. But some companies are struggling to bring the concept of prototyping to their companies. It's certainly not easy, especially in the Enterprise space. It may mean changing someone's mind, implementing new processes, or even hiring new people. But if you can identify relatively how expensive it is to ingore the benefits of prototyping, it becomes a no-brainer to invest in making prototpying a reality for your company.
Need help introducing UX strategies at your company? Get in touch.
If you need help introducing and implementing modern UX strategies to your development process, get in touch.