Prototyping has become an essential part of any design and development process for every company. Traditionally, in order to create a prototype, you actually needed to code your work, which required nearly the same cost and effort as the final product. Nowadays, designers can cut costs and save time by quickly creating prototypes that resemble the next screens of a website or application by rapid prototyping.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of rapid prototyping and different techniques that you can take to accelerate your design process.
So, what exactly is rapid prototyping?
Before you invest a lot of time and money into developing an idea or product, you’ll want to know that it’s user-friendly and prototypes can help with this. They can range from hand-drawn sketches (low fidelity) to interactive mockups (high fidelity) that look and feel like the finished product.
The purpose of rapid prototyping is to demonstrate possibilities quickly by building a series of inexpensive mock-ups so that you’re able to get early feedback and adjust designs accordingly.
In a recent report, IBM found that discovering errors after releasing software costs 30 times more than catching them at the design stage.
This process will be quicker and cheaper than creating a full-blown and fully functional version of your idea. Prototyping helps individuals and teams quickly experiment with multiple ideas; facilitating discussion through visuals rather than words and ensures that everyone is on the same page.
Why is rapid prototyping important?
There are many advantages of rapid prototyping over other design approaches:
- Communicate ideas effectively
Compared to a written specification, a prototype is much easier to understand simply because it’s visual. This is the best way to ensure that everyone shares a common understanding of how your product should look and feel, reducing risk and leading to better feedback.
- Explore new ideas and concepts quickly
Traditionally, making mockups was slow and often ended up costing a lot of money. Rapid prototyping opens up new creative opportunities for innovation by cutting out the restrictions of conventional methods but also focuses you to think less and ideate faster.
- Save time
As the old expression goes, ‘time is money’, and being able to map out user flows early in the ideation stage will lead to time reduction between the initial design and testing, reducing difficulties in the usability.
- Lower risk of rework
Everything created has its own risks, for example, the risk of failure, costs, security, and many others. At the end of the day, most risks can be reduced and handled before your product is launched, with rapid prototyping. The process provides a precise model for usability testing and therefore reduces the risk of problems further down the line that by that point might require expensive dev work.
How to build a prototype?
The beauty of this process is that it’s really quite simple and hugely beneficial.
Low Fidelity Prototyping: Grab some pen and paper
The quickest way to start is also the easiest and that’s by sketching with pen and paper. Paper prototypes are very simple to create, ranging from rough sketches to storyboarding and allow you to check that your concept and requirements have been fully understood without investing too much time.
Paper prototyping is often done in the very early stages of a design process, particularly during a brainstorm or conceptual session with the client to understand their brief. Low fidelity prototyping has very little to no learning curve and allows you to make changes quickly and easily.
Medium fidelity: Jump on the computer
As you start using software to prototype, the fidelity increases to create medium fidelity prototypes. Anything created at this level will take a little more time and effort but the look and feel of the product will become more refined and formal.
Most designers will use this stage to focus on showing off the user journey of the application, but visual elements of branding, colour and style can be also introduced here. Interactivity can be imitated by linking pages or screens together. This type of prototype is best suited to test whether users needs are met and optimised as possible. It’s best to save any templates or reusable elements to reduce the time spent on this stage and as you become more proficient with your choice of tool this part of the process will get faster!
High fidelity: Time to get interactive
High fidelity prototypes are the most realistic and could be mistaken for the final product. These are usually built to test on real devices and often used for usability testing with real users. Nowadays, there are apps that allow both designers and non-designers to create visually rich and powerful prototypes with drag and drop UI components, creating realistic user experiences by simulating the functionality of the final product.
Tips for getting started:
- Don’t be too precious about your first idea: In the early stages of ideation, your first few ideas won’t be your best but that’s absolutely fine – keep focused on generating as many designs as possible.
- It doesn’t need to be pretty: When creating sketches, it’s always tempting to spend time making them look amazing but it’s best to avoid that and focus instead of getting your ideas down. Remember, you’ll go through a few iterations before you finalise your prototype.
- Record your work: It’s easy to lose bits of paper when creativity takes hold but making a digital copy, like taking a photo of each sketch can make it easier to find and share with others for feedback.
It’s all rapid
Prototyping exists to test and explore uncharted possibilities, validate ideas, whilst keeping costs low and engaging end-users to stakeholders, in ways that inform design decisions going forward.
Rapid prototyping can be used at any stage of the product development cycle, but is most effective early in the process, allowing designs to evolve more efficiently. Remember that the more prototypes you create and share, the better your product and solution will be.