"You need to "listen deeply" - listen past what people say they want to hear what they need."
What it is
Prototyping is the process of inexpensively modeling design ideas prior to implementating a final product. These prototype models can then be evaluated, changes made rapidly, and the prototype evaluated again, thus informing the design process.
How It Benefits You
Prototyping Web sites and applications prior to application development and final production carry many benefits, among them:
- Communicating the design effectively to your team.
A picture is worth a thousand words; an interactive tool, much more than that. A prototype provides a "proof of concept" for the Web site or application; that is, its features and functionality and how they are expressed within the site structure and navigation, information design, and process flow. In short, a prototype informs a client what the system intends to deliver and what it will be like for users to interact with it. With this knowledge, a client and the development team can prioritize feature and function development, as well as make tradeoffs to the information architecture.
- Allowing for participatory design.
Prototypes can also be made available for input from a wide variety of users, client team members, and development team members. For these reasons, prototypes lend themselves to a participatory design process where many key roles have "buy-in" to the nature and behavior of the final software product. In this way, prototyping helps gain timely sign-offs from clients and developers.
- Catching mistakes early.
Ideally, prototypes are frequently tested in formal and informal usability sessions throughout their development. This allows for design flaws (e.g., ambiguous labels, intolerance for user errors) to not only be caught early, but also repaired much more cheaply (i.e., as prototype revisions) than within the costly final production and application development stages. Thus, prototyping reduces risk and helps avoid the possibility that the final product becomes merely a prototype for the next release. Testing within usability sessions also assures that you are focusing on issues identified by actual users rather than those raised by the development team. If you discover that your site can only be accessed by users with certain O2 broadband packages, for example, you can decide whether you want to make changes will which allow for a wider audience. At the prototype stage, such adjustments can be carried out much more quickly, and can cost far less.
- Supporting iterative development.
Frequent user testing and subsequent prototype revisions can also support an iterative development process. In this way, the Web site or application interface can evolve (through the process of either adding, refining, or removing features and functionality) until it reaches a stable state, at which time the build stages of application development and final production begin.
- Facilitating detailed requirements gathering.
As outlined previously, prototypes provide a common ground of understanding between users, client team members, and development team members. Thus, they greatly help in fleshing out requirements, particularly in developing business requirements and use cases. Ideas for what the system should include or how it should function can be quickly worked into the prototype and then, once agreed upon, reflected within formal requirements.
- Guiding later development stages.
Once a prototype is developed and approved, it becomes the blueprint, the common communication tool guiding stages of the Web development process. Creative composites (or comps), which model the visual look and feel of a Web site or application, use prototypes to inform navigation and information design. Application developers can use the prototype as a live representation of the use cases (even to the point of using prototype pages as a test front-end to their code) and to understand how the system is intended to interact with users. Similarly, production team members can use the prototype to identify the information layout of each Web site page, as well as the graphics and content that need to be gathered.
What we do
The term "fidelity" refers to how closely a prototype resembles a final product. Prototypes come in different forms ranging from paper sketches (low-fidelity) to high-quality HTML representations (high-fidelity), complete with visual look and feel, graphics, and in many cases, and some back-end functionality.
- For most projects, Alpha Cube develops medium-fidelity prototypes, which are text-driven interactive tools that communicate the site's information architecture but contain no visual look and feel and few graphics. Their advantage is that they provide a feel for what information the site will contain and how it will behave in terms of structure, navigation, information design, and process flow. But they do not contain specifics about visual look and feel and extensive graphics, which can be a distraction during decision making. Back-end functionality is simulated, so that your team gets a real feel for how the site will behave.
- For other projects, we deliver a high-fidelity click-through prototype that includes the final visual design, all graphics, and HTML (or ASP/JSP/ASP.Net) source.
To learn more about how we can
develop a click-through prototype for your project,
please write to us or call us directly at +1 303-521-0075.