The power of prototyping

I’ve been specialising on Interaction Design for a long time now and have been applying some User Experience disciplines on all my digital projects, from Rich Internet Applications and web sites to games.

As both a Developer and Designer I’m able to understand the entire development process and one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned after all those years is that you need to build prototypes for everything.

Why prototyping is so important?

A long time ago (July/2011) I gave a lecture and workshop about User Experience and Design Thinking process. I was just in the beginning of my studies about UX and I remember that I was sooo nervous to talk about it. At the end of the day it was really nice, people enjoyed and I learned a lot.

Prototype = put your hands on your ideas

Prototype = put your hands on your ideas

I used the image above to illustrate the most simple and clear definition of a prototype that I could think: “Put your hands on your ideas“, “feel your ideas”. I still believe in this, a prototype is the best way to actually see and feel what you and your team have been thinking. After that you’ll be able to decide if you like it or not and, most importantly, know what others feel about it.

A prototype is something that you need to test in many different situations as possible, with as many people as possible and as fast as possible. The goal here is to fail faster to succeed sooner so prototypes are meant to be discardable and they are NOT meant to be beautiful as well. The real beauty takes time to be visible and understandable 😉

Prototypes will also help to find errors and problems that could take your project or even your business down if found on a later stage (i.e. at a final development stage or even after launch). With prototypes it’s possible to test and experiment different paths and decide which one will be the most successful based on trustful data.

For me, prototypes must be:

Simple: Don’t put a lot of stuff on a prototype. If you’re doing that you’re not prototyping anymore. If you have a complex project, create simple isolated prototypes and then put them together.

Fast: Prototypes must be simple and also fast to create/develop. You want to try as many possibilities as you can. If it’s taking more time (like a lot of days or even weeks), you’re not prototyping anymore.

Discardable: Don’t fall in love with your ideas. The same apply to your prototypes … you must try, with all your forces, to discard your prototype after reaching your goals. You’ll be able to create the final, beautiful and clean version with much more ease after prototyping it. This is also another reason why prototypes should be simple and fast: you’re going to throw them away.

Functional: Your prototypes should be simple and fast but obviously they must do their work! You must be able to use your prototype. Don’t forget that other people must be able to use it too.

Fruit of an idea: First you need to do the ideation process, then you create your prototype and not the other way around. Remember: Put your hands on your ideas.

Part of a iteration? Probably: You’ll have plenty of new ideas and new ideation processes after creating and testing your prototypes. So you can possibly fall on this “Ideation > Prototype > Test/Evaluation > gotoAndPlay(Ideation)” process until you find the most successful approach.