#09 Prototyping: How to Build a Product That Works
If you don't have the time or budget to do research with real users, what do you do?
Read time: under 4 minutes
One of the most common mistakes designers make before building a new product is that they believe that prototyping is a waste of time and resources. The truth is the opposite.
Prototyping is one of the most critical steps in the design thinking phase as it allows UX designers to create a preliminary version of the products — it can often make or break your final product.
Most of us know how to create a prototype. We just don’t know how we know. Building a prototype is never enough. We also need to understand the process involved with constructing a product's tangible design concept.
“If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.” — Tom & David Kelley
Getting early feedback and making updates in a prototype is much more convenient and cost-efficient compared to revising an implemented system. It also allows you to test how people interact with the concept without building the final product.
Prototyping: What is it exactly?
A prototype is an early example or mock-up used to test a process or product, built with varying degrees of fidelity to capture design concepts and test them on users.
Some of the high-value benefits of UX prototyping include:
Leveraging insights from team members
Verifying product market fit
Improving user experience
Predict unexpected scenarios and/or usability problems
A standard for presentation
Time and cost-efficient
When I started building UX Playbook I didn’t sit by the computer and write 20,000 words. Instead, I wrote one guide (around 2000 words) about how I created Proto-Personas, uploaded it on Buymeacoffee, and tested it with users — during that week someone randomly found it. They purchased it with 0 marketing. From that, UX Playbook was born.
Building a prototype should be fast and even “dirty” and if your prototype involves coding, the actual code doesn’t have to be perfect or clean, it just needs to do the job it was intended to.
Common pitfalls to avoid
I used to design products as quickly as I could to make the deadline so I can hand them off to the developers and not look back.
A few weeks after the product has been released, we started getting feedback; “I don’t get it?”, “How does it work?”, etc. It was bad.
I didn’t validate the flow, features, and interactions before getting the developers to code my design. Months later, we ended up needing a full redesign.
Static designs don’t help anyone.
Don’t be a perfectionist.
Focusing too much on your ‘first good idea’
Adding too many features
Try to avoid the endowment effect, an emotional bias that causes you to value your project higher and often irrationally than its market value.
Prototyping without a clear objective
Spending too much time explaining. It's always better to show rather than tell. Use the time to create and show.
How to get it DONE!
Establish a clear purpose. Without a defined concept, you can easily set your product up for failure.
Define the prototype's requirements early. Ask yourself, "How complex and real does the prototype have to be to serve its purpose?".
Do not rely entirely on your prototyping tool
Choose the right amount of fidelity
Think about how the prototype can be updated
Reuse, reuse, reuse. For digital prototyping, this means saving reusable templates, stencils, patterns, and widgets for future projects.
Start with a disclaimer. Start every prototype review session with the disclaimer that this is just a prototype, a mock-up, not the actual solution. This reminds stakeholders and users that this is a work in progress.
⚠️ ⚠️ Don't forget to test. The goal is to identify problems and areas of improvement early so you can make the necessary changes.
How H&M prototyped Voice UI
When H&M first launched H&M Home, they wanted to give their customers a shopping experience that was unique for the category. They teamed up with Google to do a voice UI design sprint and prototype a Google Assistant Experience. H&M rolled out their prototype test and was able to refine an effective dialog in the live version of the app. Read the case study here.
UX prototypes are the essence of any design project.
Before releasing a product to market, you want to make sure that it works as intended. Through prototyping, you’ll be able to spot problems early and make iterations before you spend time and money developing the final product.
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