With the big picture of user flows established and some thought given to building a design system that ensures consistency, it’s time to put together some interactive prototypes.
This article, explores the benefits of wireframing and prototyping, before covering the process from paper prototyping to lo-fi wireframing to hi-fi prototyping with mockups.
The Benefits Of Prototyping
We are fortunate as designers to have a wealth of prototyping tools at our disposal at a wide range of fidelities. At one end of the spectrum, we have lo-fi paper prototypes, while at the other end of the spectrum we have hi-fi digital prototypes.
There are numerous benefits of prototyping, including:
- Saving time and money;
- Getting everyone involved and bought into the design process;
- Acting as a bridge between designers and developers.
Let’s dive a little deeper into these and make a case for prototyping — as a bridge between your original idea and your final build — as a core part of the design process.
Paper Prototypes, Wireframes And Clickable Prototypes
With the benefits of prototyping defined, it’s time to dive deeper into the prototyping process. We can, of course, create product prototypes at a wide range of fidelities and using a wide range of tools. These include:
- rapid, sketched paper prototypes;
- lo-fi, monochromatic wireframes; and
- high-fidelity, clickable mockups.
THE POWER OF PAPER
Paper is an incredibly powerful tool for prototyping. As a very low-cost prototyping medium, it frees you up, reducing the ‘weight of expectation.’ The beauty of paper is that it’s also collaborative, allowing you to design as a team, collectively.
Like anything, paper prototyping is a skill that gets better with practice and some time spent sketching interfaces will pay off.
The more you draw, the more you improve your thinking and communication skills. You don’t need to be in a workshop to do this, however. Simply set aside some time and practice, and your paper prototyping skills will improve immeasurably.
Paper is considerably faster than working on a computer. By working at an inherently lower level of fidelity, it forces you to think through the process, defining flows and mapping out interfaces. Lastly, a paper prototyping kit is incredibly inexpensive to build and is within reach of anyone regardless of budget.
LO-FI, LOW STRESS WIREFRAMES
A wireframe is essentially a ‘skeleton’ for your design. As a lower fidelity design deliverable — which is focused on structure, as opposed to look and feel — wireframes help you to focus on functionality and not get lost in detail. Wireframes distill the interface down to simple, monochromatic shapes and are helpful for communicating high-level structure.
Wireframes offer a number of benefits:
- they are faster to create,
- As lo-fi deliverables they can be rapidly updated
- With their stripped-down design they put less pressure on users and stakeholders
- They are less ‘precious,’ allowing designers to take on board feedback without feeling too attached to them.
- Their unfinished look takes the pressure off
With their focus on information architecture, wireframes enable you to quickly map the journey through content. Wireframes are also useful for helping to establish the scope of a project, enabling you to identify all the different screens you might need to design.
HI-FI, CLICKABLE PROTOTYPES
High-fidelity prototypes are useful for bringing a design to life, helping everyone to get a feel for both the visual design and the interaction design. By including real content in your prototype, your users can experience how a website or an application functions and flows and provide helpful feedback.
Prototypes at this level of fidelity — rather than in the finished medium — are also considerably quicker to build, helping you to:
- Validate your assumptions, testing your ideas;
- Communicate your thinking, enabling others to provide feedback; and
- Pitch ideas, when you’re proposing a new feature, for example.
Collaboration And Feedback
Design is an iterative process that includes multiple stakeholders. The more you can keep the lines of communication open throughout that process the better.
Regardless of the end outcome — be it desktop or mobile, web or native — a considered prototyping process, one that is iterative in nature, will deliver the required outcomes, ensuring that what’s designed meets our users’ needs. Pick the right tool for the job, and you’ll be all set to go.