Have you ever tried to discuss a product concept or a proposed user journey with a stakeholder without any visuals? It’s tough! You need to be able to talk through various scenarios, assume how functionality might operate and envisage how the designs will look. It takes a great deal of imagination and a healthy dose of patience. It also takes way too much time.
Consider an alternative; a basic, interactive and tangible version of the product that allows someone to experience the proposed user journey for themselves, and get a real-time understanding of how it works. This is prototype design - and it will revolutionise your approach to product development.
What is prototyping?
By definition, prototyping refers to the process of creating a working sample of your proposed product using out of the box User Experience (UX) tools or development skills. These days there are numerous prototype design products available online. They’re often known as ‘interactive wireframing’ tools because they combine information architecture, UX and design skills in one.
Before you begin creating your online prototype or interactive wireframe, it can be helpful to sketch out the user journey (using actual paper and a pen - remember those!?). If you’re using an online prototyping tool, you’ll need to log in to your chosen product and start designing the user journey on screen.
Most online prototyping tools include pre-designed templates that you can use to begin. You can add in buttons, boxes, text and any visuals you want to include. This requires a good understanding of UX principles and design expertise - one cannot simply add visuals at random!
Finally, it’s time to factor in your interactive functionality. This is what brings the entire prototype to life.
The value of prototyping
Why bother with prototype design in the first place? There are a few reasons, but the main ones are time, risk and buy-in.
Whilst it may sound a bit fiddly, the process of prototyping can prove much more straightforward than trying to document or explain various use cases and potential scenarios. In more traditional Waterfall approaches to product management, a Business Analyst or Product Manager may spend weeks creating lengthy documents that detail how a product is expected to behave. The problem with this is that often online products don’t behave as they’re expected to once developed. Similarly, hypotheses may be wrong, assumptions can be false and use cases can fail. It takes much longer to correct any issues once a product has been developed.
Prototyping can save a huge amount of time in the long run. By the time you actually build the full version of the prototype your stakeholders have signed off, it’s more likely to work as expected and be right the first time. Also, your developers will have a clear, workable blueprint to develop from, so there’s less room for error.
Prototyping minimises risk to your project in a big way. The biggest benefit of prototyping from a customer perspective is that it aligns expectations on all sides. If you’re trying to explain a user journey, either visually or in a lengthy document, there are loads of opportunities for messages to get lost in translation and for mistakes to happen.
Allowing your stakeholders to have a play with a workable prototype means they get to experience the user journey first-hand. They can raise any questions or concerns as they interact with the prototype. Critically, changes can be made with ease and the prototype can be perfected before any actual development work has begun. This will de-risk the project, save money and improve the chance of your customer being satisfied with the end product.
If you’re trying to get funding or stakeholder approval for a product to proceed, prototyping could be your secret weapon. In agile product development, there’s a big focus on showing rather than telling wherever possible. By allowing stakeholders to experience how a product could behave, they’re more likely to ‘get it’ and understand its potential value.
The same applies to using prototyping as a sales tool for prospective clients. What better way to prove what you could deliver to a potential client than by giving them something tangible to try out? Personalised prototyping for potential clients can be even more effective than testimonials and case studies of past work.
How we use prototype design at DD
At Digital Detox, we are avid advocates of prototyping. In fact, we try to create prototypes wherever possible, whether we are illustrating our value to a prospective client, outlining user journeys and proving (or disproving) hypotheses about how users might engage with a particular product.
We believe that prototyping is the best way to save time and minimise risk on projects, both to us and our customers. Our extremely talented UX design team are pros at prototyping and use a healthy mix of out of the box tools and in-house design skills to create impressive interactive user journeys that add value to clients.
If you’d like to see our prototyping skills in action and have an idea, challenge or opportunity to discuss, do get in touch!