The Benefits of Prototyping

If you’re doing any kind of development these days, the term “prototype” has probably been thrown around at some point. Sadly, more often than not, it’s in the context of “that thing we really can’t fit into the budget.” Others view prototyping as a frivolous endeavor that means building an app just so it can be tested. Furthermore, many claim that the barrier of entry is too great, and that “specialized” resources are required in order to make a meaningful impact.

Today, these biases about prototyping as being expensive and a waste of time really couldn’t be further from the truth. Prototyping is a great way to get information in front of users and stakeholders as fast as possible. And with so many methods of prototyping at your disposal, and new development paradigms such as Agile, prototyping is not only easier and more affordable than ever, but is also more important than ever. Let me tell you why.

Why To Prototype

The goal of rapid prototyping is simple. It’s a means for you to affordably demonstrate to stakeholders, end-users, and your own internal team what any given piece of functionality will look like, and how someone can interact with it. Keep in mind that errors in prototypes are far less expensive than errors in development.

There are a multitude of reasons to prototype, but here at Celerity we’ve embraced a few specific benefits that were brought to light by Todd Warfel, a leading champion in the Prototyping space, as well as analysis based on our own projects.

    • Conveys functionality that static mockups and wireframes simply cannot. Have you ever sat in a room and tried to explain to someone how something in a wireframe is going to move once it’s completed? Rapid prototypes provide a level of interactivity and clarity that is not achievable with static files. Don’t tell them how that piece is going to animate when someone clicks it–show it to them!
    • Encourages collaboration and discovery with stakeholders. Why wouldn’t you want to get rapid, accurate feedback from the people you’re working with? Get your answers and catch mistakes early on, because they’re only going to cost you in the long run.
    • Gets stakeholders and team members to buy in. How often have you had an idea shot down because it was simply too difficult to convey with words and static images? Prototyping helps you make your point in a way that doesn’t force someone to visualize it. Don’t let great ideas get lost!
    • Saves development time. Is your development time expensive? Absolutely. Save yourself time and effort in the development cycle by creating light-weight, functional prototypes that help to eliminate confusion when it’s time to start coding.
    • Helps us test, test and test again. Are you doing usability testing? You better be! Having a solid prototype allows you to get something tangible in front of end-users early on in the process. This keeps us working toward a product that is optimized for those who will actually be using it everyday.

So What’s The Downside?

As with anything else, there are some pitfalls to watch out for. In our experience at Celerity, the most common traps are:

    • Taking feedback as requirements. The feedback we receive from prototyping is almost always extremely helpful. However, it’s easy to confuse great feedback with new requirements. Stay on task, and keep a watchful eye on the scope of the project.
    • Prototyping everything. We love prototypes, and because of their effectiveness, it’s easy to start throwing a prototype at every concept. It’s important to realize that they’re not necessary for every project, or for every component. Use your judgement as to when to pull prototypes into the fold.
    • Ignoring feasibility. It’s become so easy to prototype complex functionality, that sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what’s feasible. Time, cost and platform restrictions need to be considered when creating and reviewing prototypes.

Getting Started

My hope is that this blog on the benefits of prototyping has made you more receptive to the concept. While it isn’t a magic bullet that will solve all of your project woes, there are significant benefits to prototyping that will save you time and money in the long term.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog where we will discuss the different methods of prototyping in depth, and tackle a few tools you can use to get your prototypes off the ground. For now, we invite you to check out this Prototyping Handbook by the great team over at UX Pin. Their guide has been a major inspiration for this blog, and their tool is gaining immense traction in the prototyping community.

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