Building a new home requires a lot of research and review of plans, materials and display homes before construction begins. In the same way, prototyping helps you refine the details of your web or software project.
What is prototyping?
Prototyping is a tool that allows you to create cheap models of a complex system or project. These can range from simple wireframes for content layouts, to more detailed working representations that include major functionality and some design features, without requiring the time-intensive coding that is required for the finished product.
And much like our new home analogy where blueprints are used to ensure architects, homeowners, bricklayers, plumbers and carpenters are all on the same page, a prototype for a web or software solution works in a similar way. As a visual representation of a design specification, they help to coordinate designers, developers, stakeholders, users and clients to work effectively together, and encourage constant reevaluation of concepts, designs and user experience in order to produce the best possible solution. In this sense whilst a prototype may start out quite small with only key areas included, it will later expand and become more complex over several iterations.
Some prototyping tools available are:
- Wireframing—simple illustrations that can test layout design, navigation and content
- MS Access—a tool that can be used for testing the functionality of an applications that will run on large database management system platforms, such as MySQL or SQL server.
- Bootstrap—a framework tool that can rapidly compile user interfaces
- Axure RP—a tool that creates interactive wireframes and user interface mockups
- Scaffolding/form generators—automated table and form generators that allow speedy production of skeleton database applications
So what are the benefits of prototyping?
- It is a cost effective way to test the validity of your next big project and reduce risk: Due to the interactive nature of prototypes and the ease with which they are put together, you can test the validity of your idea before investing large sums of money developing something that may not suit your needs. This can be used for instance to scope out a large database management system — a prototype can be used to test the concept against user requirements and refined based on feedback. This reduces risk on big new systems and mitigates a loss on investment that may have otherwise occurred without that pre-planning.
- It facilitates production of the best possible solution for your needs and increases conversion rates: Due to the interactive nature of prototypes, user testing can occur at the beginning of development rather than at the end. Limited beta-testing of user experience (UX) can be conducted on your prototype and will help to craft user flow, content categorisation, site maps and user interaction, as well as design and interface flaws that may have otherwise been missed can be easily identified and addressed. The end result of this process is a highly-refined UX that can increase conversion rates for your end product.
- It streamlines the responsive design process and makes it easier to implement best practice standards: By translating design specifications into visual representations, prototyping helps to render complex designs for different user scenarios into a more easily understood format. Responsive web design is best practice and prototyping offers total comprehension as to how a website’s design will behave and change over different viewing platforms such as desktop computers, mobile phones and tablets.
- It is widely accessible and can increase the speed of sign-off on a project: The highly visual nature of prototypes means that they are easily understood by people of differing technical backgrounds, which is why they are so effective in coordinating people with a variety of skillsets to collaborate effectively. However this also means that your prototypes can also be used in presentations to fellow stakeholders, and as such support a speedy sign-off of your project.
To discuss how prototyping can be used to make your next big project a success, call us on (02) 9213 1300 to speak to one of our experienced project managers.