The Power of Prototyping: What, Why & How.
“A prototype is just your idea of what the future might look like.”
– David Kelley, IDEO Founder & Chairman
What is a prototype?
Prototyping is one of the best ways to gain insight into your product during the Design process. It involves creating a basic version of your product to bring to life the idea, test the idea and start iterating and improving it straight away. This enables idea development without laying out too much time and money. It means that designers can bring the idea to life in a tangible way and test it in a low-risk setting.
Prototyping comes in at stage 4 in the design thinking process (empathise, understand, ideate, prototype, test). The user is the most important part of the design, so knowing how your user is going to interact with your product and collecting feedback is key to designing something that people want to use.
By building a prototype you’re going to reveal solutions to problems that already exist or new problems you didn’t anticipate. You can also re-test your initial solutions before your product is released. Having a prototype also prevents ‘chinese whispers’ when explaining an idea or goal, think of it as drawing a house for a child rather than explaining it (bricks, windows, a door).
Steve Jobs was a huge advocate prototyping. Take one of the first prototypes of the iPhone in 2007 (below), he joked that this was how not to build a phone. They only discovered that for sure after building something similar. Prototyping celebrates failure, in fact, it loves failure so much it speeds it up!
Getting the initial idea out of your hand and actually playing with your idea is so important to the design thinking phase. Materials don’t matter, whether you’re using paper, tin foil, Lego, or play-doh – anything to get the creative juices flowing and see your project in a tangible form.
Why do it? What’s good about it?
“They slow us down to speed us up. By taking the time to prototype our ideas, we avoid costly mistakes such as becoming too complex too early and sticking with a weak idea for too long.”
– Tim Brown
There are many reasons why you should consider prototyping as part of your design process a key one being cost. When developing an app, you need a decent amount of investment to get it right, so better to invest a little bit up front to be sure you know what you want, but more importantly, what you user wants before the big bucks come in.
Not yet convinced? Or need to convince someone else? Here is a nice tidy list of reasons to prototype:
- Develop your ideas quickly: A lot of time can be wasted planning and not really doing much. Working with a prototype can speed up the design process. At a very basic level, you could create an app with paper or on a whiteboard just to be able to visualise it.
- See what works and what doesn’t: by taking action and making a prototype you’re going to actually see what people want and hear their thoughts and feelings towards your product. Seeing a user interact with your app can spark new ideas or highlight issues
- It’s collaborative: We all know 2 heads are better than one, having something tangible means you can all get your thoughts/ideas in early on.
- Test before spending loads of money: Creating an app involves a high initial cost and bad design can make an app unusable for a consumer. Using the information gathered from your prototype offers financial security
- Feedback: Getting feedback about your product is invaluable, knowing exactly what your consumer thinks means you’re designing something for them rather than what you think they want
- Take it to investors: prototyping means you have a tangible thing to show prospective investors, they can actually engage with and visualise the product or app which you’re selling them. This dynamic factor can really give you the edge. If you’ve got an idea but don’t know where to go with it, why not get into the prototyping process and just see if the idea’s got legs?
Your aim is to release a product with the best kind of user experience and to have the happiest, most loyal customers. Why not increase the likelihood of this by trying it out before you send it to market. Consumers use apps in their everyday lives and any flaw in the design means they just won’t use it and it’s easier to hold on to a customer than find acquire new ones, how many apps do you install/uninstall per week?
How to do it
There are 3 levels of prototyping – from basic to advanced. I suggest you start basic, next time you’re in a meeting or with a colleague and an idea pops up, get it drawn out, you’ve then officially created a prototype and you can go and show off to everyone how Innovative you are.
- Low fidelity prototypes: A basic ‘paper’ prototype of how the prototype might be used in the final design. Some examples would be storyboarding or sketching. This is a great way to get ideas out of your head and on to paper.
- Medium fidelity prototypes: Limited functionality but does include clickable areas, navigations, and interactions that you would usually make on an app, this might be made with powerpoint or a programme you already have.
- High fidelity prototypes: The fancy prototypes and the one which bring the most value. Clickable prototypes that operate much closer to the end product. It could be an early version of a design program or an app that can be thoroughly tested.
Prototyping for mobile apps has never been easier. There are many software tools that allow designers to create a prototype of your app that you can use and test. At POWERnomads we offer high fidelity prototypes using marvel.app so your ideas can be easily presented and visualised.
You can even prototype a service! Check out the fascinating results of a prototype at Kaiser Permanente for pre and post-natal mothers.
Ready to get started? Google have made a video to get you ready for your first prototyping experience.
Prototyping helps you get the idea out of your head, flowing, and enables user-centric design. Our assumptions about consumers can sometimes be wrong and can lead to a waste of time and money. Building a prototype of your app is an easy way to learn about your users and improve your product.
Already a prototype god? I’d love to hear your thoughts, or if you have any questions, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org