Thoughts on Prototyping

Prototyping is probably the most underutilised component of a User Centered Design (UCD) process. It’s the first thing to be struck off the list when budgets and time are tight. Its value is often difficult to explain and its inclusion is often seen as unnecessary. Overkill. However, when we prototype designs, we always produce a far more effective product and reduce pain points for everyone involved.

First off lets define what a prototype is.

A prototype is a conceptual model, a statement of design intent. A prototype is a low-fi rendering of an idea or a structure. It’s a grey box rendering that you can interact with to get an idea of how something might feel to use.

A prototype is not a working model. This is the common misconception.

The Benefits of prototyping

So what exactly are the benefits of prototyping and how does it help make a better product?

– A great medium in which to communicate design intention and the best stage at which to flesh out design ideas before more subjective matters such as imagery and colour come into play.

– Enables you to test early. Make your mistakes and test assumptions before it gets costly to amend them. We should always enter a project open to the fact that everyone makes mistakes and makes wrong assumptions.

– An actual entity you can click on and interact with is far more tangible than documentation or static graphics. Stakeholders not only make better decisions if they fully understand what’s happening but also make these decisions earlier in the process.

– Makes the design process more transparent and inclusive. Prototyping together with wire-framing gives stakeholders a view into the how and why of design decisions. You can take people on a journey and make them feel they are included in the process. Giving someone a finished visual doesn’t do the same job.

So Why Not?

So maybe the more pertinent question is why shouldn’t we prototype? In a way, not to include this as part of a design process seems counter-intuitive. Making sure you’re building the right thing before you get started seems the obvious thing to do. Planning at the start of a project nearly always saves cost further down the line when mistakes are far more costly to amend.

The flow of a design process is what makes great products and prototyping definitely enhances it.

Further reading

http://boxesandarrows.com/view/integrating
http://www.newfangled.com/newfangleds_iterative_website_prototyping_process
http://www.seattle20.com/blog/Prototyping-Tool-Roundup.aspx

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