After having established a solid foundation for their ideas, teams have now moved on to the prototyping phase where they are testing their underlying assumptions, use cases and requirements. We have had two sessions related to prototyping so far and both have been extremely beneficial in terms of refining the products, not only in the sense of usability but in terms of scope as well. Considering how Prototyping plays an extremely important role in the product development lifecycle, we decided to write this week’s blog about the “What, when and how” of prototyping.
I’ll start off by putting forward a definition for the term “Prototyping”. Interaction Design Foundation defines it as “Prototyping is the making of a representation of a solution to a design problem in such a way that a user can experience it”. Essentially meaning that at this point in time, it is not yet important to build the actual functions of the solution itself, but rather, how would the users would interact and respond to the design of the solution. The reason behind this is that before the actual functions can be developed, it is possible to get feedback on the usability of the application. This is important because even if an application more than adequately fulfills its purpose, but fails to provide an intuitive and user friendly interface, it will probably end up costing the user more time and effort than what might be required. Or even worse, might end up not being used at all leading to a product failure.
However, testing the usability of the application is not the only reason for prototyping, in fact, the more important use for it is that it is a technique to depict the problem the application aims to solve. It helps demonstrate the input and output, and the process in between. The difference between these two uses of prototyping is determined by the level of details that the prototype incorporates, categorized generally as low-fidelity and high fidelity prototypes.
Low-fi and High-fi prototypes
High-fidelity prototypes are highly realistic in their appearance and interactions (e.g., a mock-up done in Illustrator), whereas low-fidelity prototypes are sketch-like objects with an unfinished quality about them . Usually Low-fidelity prototyping is done earlier on in the product development cycle, while High-fidelity prototyping comes into play at later stages when the functions and inputs/outputs are in a more refined state. Both these types of prototyping techniques offer a different set of benefits in return of varying level of efforts. There are various tools available online that allow to create the different types of prototypes with relative ease that can suit a wide range of uses, platforms and cases.
We had first presented a low detail prototype in Prototype-1 session using Balsamiq and then used proto.io to develop another prototype with more details based on the feedback we received for the first prototype for Prototype 2 session. Both these tools offer a very broad range of development options and testing capabilities with users. Screen grabs of both the prototypes is shown below
Screen captures for one interface of our prototypes
This is certainly not the last of the prototypes that we will build before the actual product is finalized, but of course, each one will be a step towards it.