The need for companies to ensure their digital platforms are fit for purpose in today’s complex business environment is vital. However, in order for ongoing development to take place with the required speed and agility, the designer’s toolkit has had to evolve.
One tool that is fast becoming the most important in the armoury is prototyping. Prototyping can take on many different forms, however, they all have the same end goal which is to build a version of a product, site or service that can be shared with colleagues, the client and the end users early on in the project lifecycle.
This allows all stakeholders to feedback on the design and functionality as it develops. It is often referred to as a ‘walking skeleton’ application. The skeleton proves the concept is possible early on and then the features are layered on as it develops. This continuously improves the prototype by addressing the user feedback at each stage.
In this article, we look at why prototyping is so effective and what part it might play in the future of web and software development projects. We also cover why prototyping is used, the process of developing a prototype, the benefits it can deliver to clients, and the real value it brings with regards to its impact on the quality of customer experience.
Bridging the gap
Web development projects are often undertaken over lengthy time periods, during this time a client’s business often changes and so do the project requirements. Therefore, it seems unreasonable to assume that a client will be happy with a product that hasn’t had their (or their end users’) consistent input throughout the duration of the project. This is the key element of prototyping and why it is being used more and more frequently.
Prototyping is gaining in popularity as there are a number of pain points it helps companies to overcome. One of the most common challenges in any development project is balancing the wish list of requirements in the client specification against the budget available. Bridging this gap often takes time and many attempts to get right - both of which can be costly.
One way to address the gap is to consider requirements as ‘features’ and ‘qualities’ of a system which can be prioritised from the start and then re-prioritised as the prototype evolves.
By developing a prototype the client can see if the design is fit for purpose, as well as helping them to trial basic functionality. This ensures there is buy-in from key stakeholders and delivers confirmation the project is progressing in the right direction early in the project lifecycle.
As prototyping becomes more commonplace throughout 2016, development companies that overlook it as part of their services potentially risk compromising the quality of the customer experience they deliver to clients.
The process of developing a prototype
There are many different ways of delivering a prototype, but those most effective are built using innovative tools based on production-ready code and are easily deployable across all types of device.
The development of any prototype, be that a UX Wireframe, a front end prototype or a style guide has one thing in common, a focus on gathering feedback from the end user and this ultimately shapes the whole development. The feedback enables the project team to keep questioning ‘Is the prototype delivering what the end users want or need?’ to ensure that it delivers real value for the client.
As each stage adds another layer to the prototype if any development elements have been previously created the project team can save time by re-using those in other sections, this could include: buttons, colours, labels and links. The prototype pages are then tested against the client requirements and evaluated to ensure they are delivering the right results.
Reducing costs and enhancing creativity
During a long-term project, prototyping reduces costs as it removes the need for unnecessary duplication. It also provides a guideline as to what the underlying technology needs to deliver. This is particularly key when a company is looking to secure extra funding for a project as this working prototype can be viewed, tested and validated by stakeholders and potential investors.
Being able to design in code avoids a static design approach and enables creativity and innovation, meaning companies can deliver a much better all-round experience as a result.
Prototyping also provides the perfect environment for testing as it allows for the exploration of multi-device experiences, and the optimisation of content presentation and prioritisation. As prototyping facilitates early testing it encourages greater analysis and also helps improve understanding of how to influence customer behaviours so the client gets the response they were hoping for.
Finally, the prototyping process provides peace of mind for both the client and supplier - as it allows validation of the concept that has been put forward.
Bringing a project to life and adding value
Prototyping helps to bring a development project to life. It gives both the client and the project team the opportunity to evaluate how a site or product may look, as well as whether it meets the client’s expectations, and also facilitates a greater exploration of its features and functionality. These can all then be refined and tested, in order to ensure the experience provided is the best it can possibly be.
It is often the case that web development projects need prompt implementation, in order for companies to retain a competitive advantage. However, no matter how on time the project is if it doesn’t deliver what’s needed it's rightly considered worthless.
Innovative methods and tools such as prototyping allow suppliers to respond to the need for prompt implementation, while validating that the progress being made is as closely aligned to the project vision and goals as possible and is delivering what the end users want.
Tom Houdmont, Principal Software Engineer, Box UK
Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens