First things first: the prototype
We all know that moment when an exciting new idea suddenly comes to us. Maybe yours is about a dream holiday, or you’ve just had a groundbreaking vision of a new digital product… that seems so perfect that you are reluctant to share it with the world, for fear of criticism.
And this is a huge mistake, because perfect ideas and designs do not start out that way.
They are carefully shaped and moulded to become ideal – especially in software development, as the shaping and moulding of the idea is crucial to helping us figure out which direction to take with the product.
This is why we need a prototype! So that we can collect invaluable feedback and establish a great starting point for later work.
And knowing how, when and who to ask for feedback can help save a lot of time and money later on. We can learn, change our minds or pivot — perhaps even several times.
We just have to remember that every prototype should be built to test very specific aspects of a product. The better we define the purpose of the research, the more valuable the conclusions we can draw.
This is not only important during the initial stages of the project but also during the development phase – we often find it useful to regularly test new versions, ideas or features. As a result, a smaller but more specific set of hypotheses can be tested at each phase.
However, there are a few different ways to do this.
5 Types of prototypes
Depending on the stage of product development, we can build different types of prototypes and use them to check out various aspects of the product.
When you have a vision of a new product or service and find yourself struggling to explain it to someone, just make a sketch of it. A rough drawing does not need to be pretty. Its purpose is to help you communicate your ideas quickly and more precisely than by using only words. A sketch can help support your ideas during your pitch and also in the middle of the development process, when you are trying to come to terms with stakeholders or developers.
Creating a sketch of your idea also makes it easier for people to evaluate because they will be less worried about destroying something in which you’ve invested a lot of time and effort. So, the worse it looks at that stage, the more likely you are to receive honest feedback.
When you have a more precise vision of your product, you can then draw a wireframe that shows the application flow and the main features, along with the information architecture. Wireframes are not good-looking screens: they are schematic, even ascetic, so users are not distracted by any colours or fancy icons, but stay focused on the core aspects of the application.
This type of prototype is great for testing the business process and user needs. Also, a UX designer can test the design of the navigation and screen layouts. In systems that support users with a lot of data (like dashboards or complex tables), we can also check to see if the most valuable data is being shown and whether it is presented in an understandable/usable way.
3. Clickable prototype
Once the wireframes are ready, we can create a final design and use software (like Figma) to create a clickable prototype. And the best part here is that the outcome can look and behave almost like a working solution — without you having to spend a lot of time working on it. A clickable prototype is just great at pretending to be a finished product.
This is a fast and effective way to see how users will interact with your software, both on mobile and desktop screens. We can check the ergonomics of the layout, test the interactive elements, and then make any necessary adjustments, so that we won’t have to implement any costly changes after the product is ready.
4. One-pager/Landing page/Facebook page
If we’re at the stage where we do not yet know how many potential customers would be willing to buy our product, we can choose to create a simple page that presents our product and encourages visitors to subscribe to our newsletter.
This is a good way to learn how many people are even remotely interested in what we are offering – in a cost-effective and time-saving way. We can create a one-pager, a landing page or even a Facebook page – it just has to be simple, easy-to-read and clearly explain your idea. However, it may take a while to reach a sufficient number of potential customers – or until the results of your test actually reflect the real situation.
5. PoC – Proof of Concept
Proof of Concept is mostly used for a product that is technically challengeable. The prototype is already a piece of software but created as simply and cheaply as possible. The main goal is to prove to, e.g., investors, that something is feasible and has a good chance of success.
PoC also brings some additional benefits to the table. Besides the most obvious one, which is allowing you to collect user feedback well before taking a full-scale product to market in order to validate your ideas – you can also choose the most adequate technology for developing your solution, and even to onboard your first users. These so-called early adopters can naturally drum up buzz around your product before the official launch.
Of course, all of the above-mentioned types of prototypes also come with a few significant challenges that we have to be aware of.
- Reaching out to the right people
Prototype-testing should always be done with your potential end users. It is important to know who these people are and how to find them. Sometimes a product will have more than one segment of users with different needs, pain points and reasons for choosing your product. So, you need to do thorough research and target a large cross-section of your potential customers.
- Look at user behaviour and not just user opinions
The method of conducting research with your prototype is crucial. Poorly formed questions will give you unreliable results and the entire study will be worthless. The most common mistake among beginners is asking people for their opinion. Why? Firstly, because people often want to be nice, which means that they may not always tell the truth. Secondly, because people often don’t know themselves as well as they think they do either.
So, in order to get answers that really matter, you should ask them to do something rather than just voice their opinions. Observe how they use your prototype and perform certain tasks. This will allow you to check on your end user behaviour, and learn what works well and what needs to be improved.
- Moderate the test correctly
The moderator should not be the founder or main designer of the product. It is essential to avoid asking any leading questions that suggest certain answers, and also to refrain from defending your ideas. You can gain valuable insights only if you are open-minded and remain impartial. A good practice is to try to monitor the tests without interfering or influencing any of your carefully recruited testers.
As you may have already realised, prototyping is something that can be done multiple times throughout the entire project. You can test the software as a whole, as well as just part of it or a few single features – not to mention any of your totally new ideas. The prototype just has to be designed in a smart way and then put to the test against a carefully selected group of potential users – without attempting to influence them in any way.
The benefits of prototyping are not to be overlooked:
- Prototyping helps you understand the idea better.
It allows you to think of different options, possibilities, and problems and understand your own project more thoroughly. And the better you understand it, the more likely you are to succeed (or abandon it…).
- Prototyping allows you to communicate your ideas better to others.
This, in turn, helps you:
– collaborate with stakeholders,
– find investors,
– excite your customers with a product that is about to be released.
- Prototyping addresses many cost-related and technical issues.
You can clarify production costs and any potential problems that may emerge along the way. Plus, you can start working on your project almost immediately by building something very simple at the beginning – even with a very small budget.
All you need in order to reap these benefits is the help of an experienced UX designer.
So, if you want to kick off your project with the perfect prototype – discover our workshops!