Introduction to Prototyping
As a larger percentage of the corporate world gets their work done using various software applications, the concept of digital prototyping is ever increasing in importance.
Digital prototyping means putting together a fake, visual, model of a proposed software application before actually building it.
Why Should You Prototype?
What’s the point of putting together a fake model before building the real thing? It helps ensure that you build something that is actually useful to your users. People are visual learners. It’s easier for stakeholders to give feedback on something tangible versus something theoretical.
When stakeholders can give feedback on a tangible model, their feedback becomes more targeted.
Rather than high in the sky advice like “let’s make the dashboard look more polished”, you’ll get feedback like “let’s make the font size of that chart title bigger”. The tactical nature of the feedback makes it more actionable and thus will increase the speed of development.
A secondary, additional benefit from engaging in the prototyping process is that your stakeholders will be more engaged.
By giving actionable feedback on a prototype your users will be able to see their ideas come to life before their eyes.
Different Types of Prototyping
There are different types of prototypes and they come in varying levels of complexity and depth.
A throwaway prototype is the simplest version. This type of wireframe can be drawn on anything (yes, even a sheet of paper!) and is designed to communicate the most basic ideas of an application.
Think of broad concepts and general visual shapes. There’s no actual functionality and probably not a ton of attention to specific design choices like color, font size, etc.
Throwaway prototypes should be used early in the design process to test large themes and ideas. Be willing to trash them completely if they’re not hitting the mark and don’t spend too much time creating them.
An evolutionary prototype is the opposite of a throwaway prototype. It starts with real code (however simple). While an evolutionary prototype is harder to put together and iterate on than a throwaway prototype it serves a couple of useful purposes.
First, it helps the business side of an organization understand the level of work that goes into creating even a simple front-end. Secondly, it allows engineers to show off their programming skills and interact directly with users and stakeholders.
While businesses tend to isolate engineers from clients, it can be helpful and rewarding for engineers to understand the business use case of the product they’re building. They’ll probably chip in some cool ideas as well!
Finally, it eliminates the need to translate a throwaway prototype into a real working version of an application which can increase the speed of development.
Consider the altitude of discussion when deciding between a throwaway prototype and an evolutionary prototype.
Starting from scratch and needing to brainstorm something completely new? A throwaway is your best bet. Simply iterating on a new feature for an existing product? You might be able to start with an evolutionary prototype.
Prototyping engages your users, speeds up your development, and helps ensure that you build a product that users will actually derive value from. It’s one of the surest ways to ensure you don’t waste valuable development time and money.