People working in the producing, Design, and Engineering fields are very familiar with the benefits of prototyping, but let’s look at it from the client’s perspective. What are the main reasons that a client should want to prototype digital products and experiences before committing to a full on build.
There are a couple of main reasons: First, when you prototype, you get a first glance into what features your audience will actually use. The “If you build it, they will come” mantra does not work in the digital product development world. For this reason, testing prototypes to ensure that what you’re building connects with and will be used by your audience is always recommended. Second, it saves money. Plain and simple. If you prototype, test, and iterate on a product early on – you will save a ton of cash before hardcore (and expensive) engineering even begins.
When should you prototype?
Prototypes play a huge role in bringing ideas to life efficiently because they provide a vivid portrayal of our creative plans and allow for quicker internal user and client feedback. Prototyping is a journey that extends from initial project ideation to user experience and design, and through final engineering.
Prototyping is particularly useful when used alongside the Design Thinking model of product creation. Our entire process is propelled by Design Thinking. For us, it is the mechanism through which innovation and creativity can be unleashed. The three stages of Design Thinking include Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. Prototyping is useful in each stage.
During the inspiration phase, we conduct field research to gather insight from the world around us. This includes doing a comparative analysis of competitive products and observing elements within our environments that contribute to our vision for a product. Creating low fidelity prototypes at this stage often adds fire to our inspiration. Perhaps something we saw during field research resonated with us. Something as simple as a napkin sketch passed around for feedback can generate new ideas. That, my friends, is lo-fi prototyping. In Ideation, we go to the next level. In this phase, we still do lots of sketching, but we also start enhancing our prototypes by building them in Adobe XD, Sketch and Photoshop. We begin testing these prototypes in InVision, which allows us to start clicking around from screen to screen while animating things. This is when initial user testing can begin. We like to get our ideas in front of our audience as soon as possible before a lot of budget gets spent.
Finally, we keep prototyping and testing through Implementation. In our experience, almost every significant project ‘pivots’ at least a little when you receive feedback on a prototype. Your first idea is rarely the best, and prototyping gives you that information. The prototypes used during Implementation get successively higher fidelity until you end up testing something that is nearly identical to the final product. That typically takes some iterations, but each iteration is well worth the time.