CommonLounge Archive

What is Rapid Prototyping?

November 06, 2017

The process of going from an idea to a product is a messy one. Learning how to prototype your ideas, getting feedback and iterating on it is the most important skill anyone aspiring to build their own products should have. This is also one of the biggest part of a UX Designer’s job in bigger teams.

Prototypes come in many forms, such as a rough sketch on paper or an interactive simulation that looks like the final product. This guide is for complete beginners who want to understand what Prototyping is all about. We’ll cover the following:

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping is an iterative process used to visualize what a website or an application will look like in order to get feedback and validation from users, stakeholders, developers and designers.

Used well, rapid prototyping will improve the quality your designs by improving communication and reducing the risk of building something that no one wants.

What do you need to prototype?

A prototype is not designed to be a fully functional version of a system, but is only meant to help visualize the user experience of the final product. As Google Ventures’ design partner Daniel Burka says:

The ideal prototype should be “Goldilocks quality.” If the quality is too low, people won’t believe the prototype is a real product. If the quality is too high, you’ll be working all night and you won’t finish. You need Goldilocks quality. Not too high, not too low, but just right.

Prototyping is a good method to test:

  • new functionalities,
  • changes in workflow,
  • technology,
  • or interface.

Okay, but how do you do it?

The Rapid Prototyping Process

Rapid Prototyping involves a three-step process, repeated as many times as needed:

  1. Prototype: Create a visual mock-up of your solution or interface.
  2. Review: Share the prototype with users and evaluate if it meets their needs and expectations.
  3. Refine: Based on this feedback, identify areas that need to be improved or clarified.

Prototype, Review, Refine, Repeat.

A prototype will usually start with a very simple mock-up of key areas and become more complex with each iteration as you gather more data from user feedback.

How much should you include in your prototype?

Focus on the key functions that will be used most often. The point of rapid prototyping is to show how a function will work or what the design will look like without prototyping the entire product. Remember, we’re aiming for the Goldilocks quality!

Prototype one User Flow at a time. Instead of going screen by screen, create a story that will take the user through the areas that you want to prototype. This way, you will get more accurate feedback because your prototype will reflect real life scenarios. For instance, prototype the “sign-up/sign-in/reset password” flow together.

Also, remember to have an iteration plan in mind. A good rule of thumb when planning iterations is to start broad and then work your way towards a more detailed version of the solution. As you iterate, the fidelity of your prototypes as well as how much you include in them will increase.

But wait, what is this fidelity? We will explore this in the next tutorial.

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