They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well if that’s true, a prototype is probably worth ten thousand.
Prototypes enable us to bring our concepts, ideas and designs to life so that we can explore flow and interaction in a more tactile way. We use them to demonstrate concepts, communicate ideas and (perhaps most importantly) to validate our decisions through user testing.
A prototype is a low cost mockup of a product, and can be produced at varying levels of fidelity or interactivity.
But its purpose is always to aid the exploration of an idea beyond the limits of ‘flat’ designs on paper or screen.
Depending on the intended use or goal, we might prototype a single interaction, a flow or even an entire app – but in each case, we’re looking to develop and demonstrate our ideas as a tangible model we can interact with.
We incorporate prototyping into two parts of our design process: early during the discovery phase, and then again during the main design phase.
In both cases, they’re living artefacts – they continuously evolve as functionality and the user flow is explored and developed. However, it’s not uncommon for additional quick prototypes to be created at other points in a project, that examine finer details such as micro-interactions, animations or transitions.
Prototyping might also be done as part of our initial engagement with new clients. These are often put together more as an opening conversation piece, but can become very useful as the project moves into the early stages of the discovery phase.
A prototype in the discovery phase will most likely be composed of the medium-to-high fidelity wireframes we produce from initial explorations and decisions made in collaboration with our clients and project team.
These wireframes illustrate the proposed layout and functionality of the product. The prototype adds the layer of interactivity that’s needed to give a more complete demonstration of the proposed concepts. This prototype is also used in usability testing. Plus, as it mimics the functionality of the final product, it requires less introduction and explanation from the facilitator, and less imagination on the part of the participants.
As the design progresses, the prototype evolves, increasing in visual fidelity towards the final UI designs, which include the client’s branding and tone of voice. It’s visually identical to the final product in addition to that layer of interactivity. This prototype will also be used for a potential round of user testing.
We use three primary prototyping methods at Apadmi – each one bringing its strengths, each better suited to particular phases in the project lifecycle…