Prototyping is an integral part of the design process. From automobiles, to engineering, to even the culinary arts, anything that relies on design has to be prototyped at various stages of its creative process.
So, what actually happens within the process of prototyping? In simple terms, prototyping helps in validating the feasibility of the product or concept by matching it with user expectations and needs.
What is a Prototype?
A prototype a simulation or sample version of a final product or application, which is used for testing prior to launch. The goal of a prototype is to test and validate products and ideas before spending precious resources like time and money into the final product.
Prototyping is a crucial step in the design process as it helps highlight and resolve any issues related to usability before its actual launch. At the very least, it reveals any apparent drawbacks and drive attention to areas that need improvement. Handing over the prototype design of the product or application to its actual users truly reveals how they want to use the product. This helps in adjusting and rectifying any drawbacks that may have risen your initial guesswork.
It is erroneously believed that prototyping only needs to be done once or twice at the end of the design process; whereas, it is always better to test early and test often to avoid nasty surprises at the end.
A prototype comes in varied forms, and can be deployed in different stages of development –
– A crude prototype, which allows the designer to get a better feel for the concept of the design.
Paper Prototyping is the most common crude design, and is recommended for the earliest stages where the design direction is vague. Examples of paper prototypes include sketches, diagrams, doodles, paper interfaces, storyboards. Here, simple screens are drawn on paper and configured to mimic a digital interaction. This works best in the early stages of design, mainly for testing product ideas. Crude prototypes are fast and inexpensive to create, and can be used as a great tool in the initial ideation and brainstorming meetings. On the downside, they are quite unrealistic and are no substitute for the digital version, and are therefore of little consequence in the advanced stages of product development.
Source: Volodymyr Melnyk’s UX wireframe for mobile app of online grocery shopping & delivery service on Behance
– The working prototype which allows users to try out some of the features of the invention.
Digital Prototypes are used to test more realistic and solid ideas, and happen to be the most common form of prototyping, and are realistic enough to accurately test most interface elements. These can be built using prototyping tools and software like Marvel or Proto. Alternatively, simple versions can also be made using presentation software like PowerPoint or Keynote. These prototypes, even the low-fidelity ones tend to be very realistic – they let you test how the user interacts with an environment comparable to the final product. Early and frequent testing is key here, and lo-fi prototypes help you progress in the right design direction on a minimal budget.
– The third one is the final prototype, which replicates the final product to the last detail.
Also known as high-fidelity prototypes, these are only recommended at advanced stages of product development to provide a groundwork for the final code. While these are valuable in terms of giving a very realistic representation, they are also expensive and time-consuming and require a high level of expertise to create. Hi-fi prototypes make sense when the requirement calls for making simple edits or upgrades to an existing product, or in the case of a very complex projects that need accurate simulation and aren’t pressed for time.
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Prototyping is a Design Essential
For starters, prototypes are incredible tools of communication which help in churning ideas out of your head and into a place where they can be tested. In a broader sense, prototypes can take up different forms like 3D objects, electronics, screen mockups, or even play acting. Whatever be the format, a prototype should help others understand your concept.x
Secondly, prototypes are valuable tools of learning. They can be tested in various ways. Some testing may be purely technical, while other testing may have to do with understanding the way that people interact with the prototype or the benefits that the concept delivers.
Dos and Don’ts of Prototyping
- Set your goals and KPIs for the testing and know the questions you want to answer. You have to be clear about what you need to understand regarding the product.
- Set yourself a time limit for building the prototype, since it’s easy to get carried away by adding more features
- Include your entire team, including the developers — to discuss the possibilities in final product.
- Add too many features. It is recommended to build one prototype for each question or assumption you’re testing – simple versions reveal clearer insights.
- Tell the user how much effort you’ve made to build that prototype — it can influence the users’ opinions.
- Be a perfectionist — a prototype doesn’t have to be perfect. Discussions can work well if there are some errors, which can lead to valuable discoveries.