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Interactive prototyping is the new black
In this article you’ll learn about:
- What is an interactive prototyping?
- What is the role of prototypes in Product Design?
- Why should you prototype?
- Various types of prototypes
What is an interactive prototyping?
Interactive prototypes, unlike static design mockups, are more like interactive demos of applications or websites. They are mostly used to visualize ideas that would normally be quite problematic to explain by using static images or screenshots. They are also used to gather valuable user feedback from either users or stakeholders early in each project’s lifecycle. As far as the tools are concerned, there are immeasurable ways to create interactive prototypes. From the ones that let you prototype in low-fidelity almost immediately to more detailed ones that let you resemble real digital products perfectly well with proper animations that make it even more realistic. The truth is – you don’t need to have any superpowers (like coding or design skills) nor spend countless hours by mastering a sophisticated design tool tailored for a small group of professionals to create a clickable prototype!
The role of prototypes in Product Design
The work that designers are in charge of has rapidly evolved over the last couple of years. Designers are not only responsible for creating shiny pictures that look appealing to the end-users, but for creating products that surely simplify our lives and change our habits. Taking into account the development of technology and the fact that the influence of digital products on our lives has risen significantly (and is expected to rise even more), we should aim to create much more meaningful and well-thought products. Outstanding design is not limited to static user interfaces anymore. Think of tech companies like Apple, Instagram, Netflix, Amazon or Tinder. The way they introduced gestures and interactions to our lives has changed the future of digital products forever.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
— Steve Jobs
Why should you prototype?
You might now be wondering about the authentic values of creating interactive prototypes in the product development cycle. Essentially, even if you decide to take the shortest route and create a simple, low-fidelity prototype the undeniable truth is that this effort will take some time and thus money. Why should you create one and not start building the proper thing straight away then?
- First of all, it’s the quickest way to validate your solution with potential users. By showing them static pictures without more context nor real flows, the users might not catch all the potential issues that they might face while interacting with the real product.
- By creating prototypes, it will be possible to iterate way faster before implementing the legitimate solution and therefore save you and your team a lot of money. Not only will you be able to deliver each feature faster but you will be able to focus on the essentials as well.
- Interactive prototypes also let you explain how the end product will feel and work, which is a tremendous way to initiate a discussion with engineers, managers and other stakeholders. With this knowledge, it’s way more feasible to estimate the time and resources that are needed to implement such interactions and screen transitions.
Tools of the trade
Since there are endless ways to create an interactive prototype, what’s the most suitable one for me? In order to answer this question, we have to take into account a lot of circumstances. However, the truth is – you don’t have to be a professional designer nor even need a piece of software to validate your idea! It would be impossible to list out all the available tools since they are just too many of them and new ones emerge rapidly, but here are a few types of tools that will make the process even smoother.
As you might have thought, this way means sketching screens of your application or website on paper as a substitute for the actual screens. How is it possible to be interactive though? You will need to be creative and draw interactions for each state and screen. You will also have to be present during the demonstration or usability test that represents your prototype. This solution is probably the quickest and the least expensive one but on the other hand, it might be a bit problematic to understand the product, especially for people that are not designers nor developers.
If you want to create a digital experience that is more accurate than a paper prototype but doesn’t take an enormous amount of time to produce – a low-fidelity prototype might be a perfect choice for you! You can try out tools like Balsamiq, Moqups or Axure and validate your idea with basic wireframes and interactions. The first two tools that I mentioned are much easier to learn but don’t offer additional features like using real data or conditional logic. The biggest advantage is that you don’t have to write a single line of code to create such a prototype. On the contrary, the fidelity of the prototype might be a bit problematic to understand.
For a more refined and pragmatic experience, you can test design mockups that look like screenshots from your actual product. The main advantage is that they will be much easier to understand by users or stakeholders since they resemble the real application or website. The main downside is that such design mockups must be created by a professional designer and thus require more time. In order to create a quick hi-fidelity prototype without sophisticated animations, you can use tools like InVision or Marvel. If you feel that you need to have animations that nearly resemble the behavior of a proper application, you can’t go wrong with tools like Principle or Flinto.
In order to build stunning digital products that people truly love, we must be aware of various aspects that actually create them. It’s no longer just a matter of using the newest technologies and being the first company in the industry.
Our products must be a mixture of business requirements and the user needs. Creating interactive prototypes is one of the ways to validate our assumptions and measure the results with a lean approach.
Here are a few concepts that you should think of in order to create interactive prototypes that bring real value:
- Interactive prototyping is a great point of validation that lets you save money at the early stage of creating your digital product.
- Actions speak louder than words – it’s much easier to gather valuable insights from the stakeholders or potential users by showing them interactive prototypes than static design mockups.
- Interactive prototypes can be created of different fidelity, it all depends on your specific needs and the stage of your product.
- You don’t have to be a professional designer to create a meaningful prototype and validate your next big idea. There are lots of tools that make this process fairly straightforward.
- You should be ready to iterate – futureproof solutions don’t exist and prototypes are here to help you take advantage of this fact.
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