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October 22, 2015 /UX/UI Design /

5 Reasons Why Every UX Designer Should Be Prototyping

One of the most important elements of User Experience (UX) Design is prototyping, which essentially consists of building a simulation of how a completed project will work. There’s a saying coined by the global design company IDEO that describes prototyping perfectly: “If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a prototype is worth 1,000 meetings.”

Prototypes allow designers to show how an entire application—or a single interaction—will function. What sets a prototype apart from other points in the design process (like paper sketches, wireframes and design mockups, all of which tend to be static) is that a prototype has some aspect of interaction. They are used to illustrate how a final product will look and perform.

When done correctly, prototypes have the potential to save a business a lot of time, frustration and money. Here’s how:

5 Benefits of Prototyping

1. Define, refine and evolve ideas

Prototyping is not a one-off deal. This often tedious but immensely beneficial process can involve the creation of several progressive prototypes as you work through the design’s core functions and goals. Prototypes help you to move rapidly and with agility, ultimately with the intention of arriving at a replication that closely resembles the intended final product or interface.

2. Figure out what works and what doesn’t work

Ideas don’t always translate into effective designs. One of the beautiful things about prototyping is that it allows you to work through this before you make a promise to a client or invest in the creation of the final product. Low fidelity mockups (typically more basic renderings, often drawn on paper) can be effective in helping to inform the prototype, allowing you to see what a concept might look like and adjust the aesthetics accordingly. The prototype can then help you find out what you need to do in order to achieve the desired result.

3. Identify problems that otherwise would have been missed

While similar to the point above, prototyping leads to the discovery of issues that may have otherwise gone undetected, and then allows the team to troubleshoot the problem without losing money on the final product. For example, if a company hired developers to code and program a mobile app without first prototyping, all of that work could be for naught if it turned out the intended goal was not actually possible. Prototyping eliminates what could be a costly mistake if it had come up later in the development process.

4. Test the design

Prototypes can be used to test the usability and utility of a function before you develop it. For example, you can use a prototype to:

  • Show a client how an idea will look when developed, and see if that is indeed what they were after.
  • Engage focus groups to get a better understanding of how your intended users interact with a design; to find out if it is intuitive or if it’s missing any components they would want or expect.
  • Experiment with multiple prototypes that perform the same function to see which one is best suited for the design and goals.
  • Play around with different elements to create the most user-friendly interface.
  • See where there is opportunity for innovation.

5. Collaborate and Communicate

Prototyping can also help a designer incorporate an entire team’s ideas –including the client – to the marketing team, content team, designers, executives and anyone else who may have a say in the final product. This is where that “1,000 meetings” saying really comes into play. Prototyping condenses the design process and prevents a lot of unnecessary consultations. Changes can be made quickly or on the spot, eliminating painful back and forth that can delay a product’s creation.

Prototype Limitations and Opportunities

A prototype is not the final product. Even high-fidelity prototypes—prototypes that closely resemble elements of the intended final product—are not the end product. Depending on the detail of your prototype, this sometimes needs to be (re)communicated to a client.

While there is a case to be made for how prototyping can save a company time and money, the prototyping process itself can be costly and time consuming if a vision is not clear. Typically though, prototyping can help designers quickly and relatively easily navigate through the limitations of a design and get it as close to a working model as possible, which is precisely the point.

As the late Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

That’s where prototyping has its opportunity to shine—when it clearly shows how a design communicates and achieves the desired goal.

UX/UI Design

Join the discussion

  • By Andrew Clarke - 12:10 PM on October 22, 2015  

    I couldn’t agree more. Hopefully Project Comet will deliver.

  • By Jason McGovern - 12:11 PM on November 11, 2015  

    I really enjoyed your article. I’ve spent many years dedicated to prototyping and usability testing, so I appreciate the value of prototyping as much as anyone else. The only thing I would challenge in your piece is the notion that prototyping should be used to dictate the limitations of a design. While I find value in being grounded in the real world where limitations are a real thing, I’d fear constraining a designer’s exploration and ability to exhaust all options via what today’s prototype can spit out.