July 19, 2024

Rapid Prototyping: What To Do And What To Avoid

What is rapid prototyping, and why would a designer want to use it? What is the difference between traditional UI prototyping and rapid prototyping? Why is this important in the field of research?

As a designer, you might be familiar with traditional UI prototyping. UI prototyping gives a visual representation of an idea.

When designers use traditional prototyping, they create a visual illustration of how a website should look and behave.

Rapid prototyping has followed on from traditional prototyping. Designers now create a prototype and then rework their designs, forming or burying changes according to user interactions. This iterative approach is known as rapid prototyping.

Rapid prototyping involves creating a mock-up or prototype of a website, application or mobile app. And don’t even think of using Illustrator to create a rapid prototype.

This prototype is then sent out for validation from clients, site users, designers and stakeholders. Changes will be made according to any feedback received.

Rapid prototyping creates a quick mock-up of a site design

Designers use rapid prototyping to create a quick mockup of a website or application. Included in this prototype is the way a designer believes the site or app will work.

The designer then explores how each aspect of a design will work in reality. This includes how a site will be navigated and how users will engage with the tasks at hand.

This design is then sent out to be tested by future users. Users offer feedback, explaining how they were (or were not) able to navigate a site, and where the site felt mysterious and difficult to use.

Once this feedback has been received, the designer will incorporate it into the user interface. The prototype is then disposed of.

Gaining feedback

As we see, the prototype provides the opportunity to receive feedback on the design.

By sharing the design with users, other designers, clients and stakeholders, the designer gains insight into how the application will be used. This helps to reduce any blind spots in the design.

A rapid prototype, therefore, allows the designer the opportunity to gain feedback early on in the design process.

This offers up the opportunity to improve on the final design and reduce the need for changes during the final stage of a project.

As the project develops, changes become far more complex to introduce. Early insights are therefore beneficial.

Rapid prototyping, therefore, generates feedback quickly. This can be used to streamline the designs until the prototype feels smooth and users no longer have questions about how to use the site or application.

Once the majority of these questions have been answered, a designer can begin work on the user interface.

Your prototype may still have edge areas

When you create a prototype, this will always lead to questions. Some questions may be general and others are very specific.

Every product has an area which impacts on your user experience and causes unhappiness or frustration. These are not always easy to identify using a rapid prototype.

In cases such as these, it is often easier for developers or engineers to list edge cases and work with them one at a time until these problems are resolved.

Sending your design out for testing

When you use rapid prototyping, you will send out your design for testing. Users will try to follow tasks in order to navigate their way around an application or site.

When you send out your application for testing, try to find users who represent your population as a whole.

These users would include people who are not highly computer literate, people who have visual impairments or people who have intellectual impairments.

By introducing a wide range of users to test an application, a designer will gain insight into any struggles users might have.

A facilitator can be used to show users what is needed from them during the evaluation as well as assess the difficulties users experience.

Once you’ve gained insight into your target users and how they are able to use your app, you can make changes. You will also be able to create user categories in order to understand who will use your application.

Users who are computer literate or who have knowledge in an industry will use your application differently to those who do not. Assess who will be using your application and design accordingly.

Test your prototype as you go along

As a designer, there are so many different ideas to explore and so much you would want to achieve. However, remember to test your designs as you go along.

This will help you to catch any mistakes you are making and resolve them quickly. If you go too far in your design, you may find there are a great many bugs that need to be repaired.

This may take you additional time and effort as each new problem impacts on a different area of your design. Short, rapid bursts which shape an iterative process are much easier to work with.

Refine your prototype

Once you receive feedback, it is time to refine your designs and create new changes. Some of these changes will be effective and will become a part of the new design. Others will be less so, and these are changes which will become buried.

Analyse the information you obtain as this will help you understand how users engage with your designs, what brings value and what causes confusion or frustration.

This will help you understand the themes which are emerging and how severe any design problems are.

The scope of your prototype

When you initially create a prototype keep it small and limit your areas of exploration. You can then expand this prototype if you need to.

Once your prototype has been tested and retested, and you’ve incorporated all the changes you have made, you’ll be ready to work on your final product.

The process of rapid prototyping should be fast. Changes are made quickly and a new product is developed until the user experience is a positive one.

When you create a rapid prototype you aren’t doing so in order to create a fully functioning site. Instead, the prototype is simply there to visually map out your user experience (UX).

Don’t prototype the full product

When you’re working on your prototype, avoid releasing the full designs.

Instead, simply release sections of your work as your ideas and concepts emerge.

This will assist you with gaining insight step by step without worrying about the ongoing hassles which will continually emerge with a larger product.

Don’t make changes at the last moment

Rapid prototyping is about creating small, frequent changes in an iterative process. Many designers leave changes until the last minute.

Very often teams only really ask for feedback as deadlines start to loom and they want to show clients a final product or result.

However, this approach isn’t always a helpful one. There may be a great many changes needed to the User Interface and this will create a ton of work on a tight deadline.

Ask for final feedback before you start building the site. This will enable your team to gain insight before the deadline emerges.

Organize yourselves and set up meetings to discuss what needs to be done. Use a tool that you know it will work for you. Calendly is good for setting up appointments. If that one doesn’t suit you, use a Calendly alternative.

You can then spend your time working on the design for your final product rather than rebuilding your prototype.

Define the scope of your prototype early on

You don’t want to spend a great deal of time working on your rapid prototype. Find out the specs of the prototype you need to release for testing.

This will give you an idea of the work you need to produce in order to receive feedback.

Explore the scope of your design, the size of your screens, aesthetics and how precise your mocks ups need to be.

Map out how precisely you need to develop your user interactions when you create your prototype. Do you need realistic buttons or animated transitions?

What content will you need to place on your site? Will you be using precise imagery and the exact text, or can you use dummy images?

How will you work with code and what levels will you need?

If you agree on these specs early on, both you and your clients will know what you need for your prototype. This can avoid stress or disappointment at a later stage.

Keep your process rapid

Whether you are looking for user insights or client feedback, rapid prototyping will enable you to ensure that your designs are on the right track.

By following the guidelines in this article, you’ll be able to keep your process quick and efficient. Rapid prototyping is an iterative process which produces quick feedback in order to improve the user experience.

You know time management is important so you’ll value the fact that this will also save you time and reduce your workload when you follow the process.

Bogdan is a designer and editor at DesignYourWay. He's reading design books the same way a hamster eats carrots, and talks all the time about trends, best practices and design principles.

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