Prototyping Today

I still remember the days when prototyping used to be thought of as an add-on for projects. Building a prototype could be construed as difficult, demanding lots of “extra” work and force design teams to borrow resources from the technical teams very early in the process.

Today it is the norm to prototype in one way or another at some point during your design process. You’re probably prototyping already without even knowing it. In our case, it has become so easy that we’ve started to do it organically as part of our process, investing as much of the budget as the project allows.

Below are a few reasons we value prototyping in our process:

  • It facilitates the evaluation process by the different stakeholders (tech validations, client approvals, etc)
  • It helps our designers to communicate ideas to the rest of the team, allowing for more exploration and faster iterations
  • It helps us validate design decisions with actual users or SMEs

So yes, going to the tech team and collaborating with them to produce a very realistic prototype that pulls real data from a database or demonstrates fancy interactions is still an option. However there are many ways you can “build” something useful to help you communicate in a more visual way, and, in most cases, it doesn’t require lots of technical knowledge.

Your prototype can be a series of designs to click through simulating a user flow —which you can easily accomplish by uploading screens and adding hotspots in InVision or Marvel— and then ask a user to play around with that in their phone. You can prototype an animation or a transition in your app by asking a motion designer in your creative team to do it in AfterEffects —or by doing it yourself in Quartz Composer or Pixator— and make sure the client likes it before you start to code.

There isn’t a solution for every case but, on a case-by-case basis, you should be able to determine the best way to approach the process. It all depends on what you want your prototype to do for you. If you want to present a responsive design, you’ll probably need to use Macaw or do some coding to show how the layout adapts to different screen sizes. But if you just want to make sure a user flow is clear, you could simply test that with a series of sketches in paper.

As I explained a couple of months ago in a talk I gave for the World Usability Day in Bogotá, we don’t value designers who know how to “build” a prototype. We value designers who know how and when to use them. We, as an agency, expect to find these skills in every individual we add to our UX team. In the same way, our clients expect to see our designs in the most realistic way possible, as well as product owners expect us to be able to bring users into the process at some point and give them something tangible they can interact with.

Prototyping is now an industry standard, and not only agencies and clients are aware of this. Two of the biggest groups building tools for UX design right now know about the value of prototyping. Just yesterday we heard about two big announcements: on one hand, InVision just acquired Silver Flows —a plugin for Sketch that allows designers to prototype while they design, without leaving the app. On the other hand, Adobe released the first public beta of Adobe Experience Design CC (previously known as Project Comet) and it comes with a prototyping functionality.

We’re not only excited to see this go from being a trend to becoming a standard, we’re also talking internally about how all this stuff is going to continue to make our process smarter. We don’t see prototyping as an additional cost for a project. It’s quite the opposite, actually: it’s a smart way to communicate better and to validate our ideas in different moments of our design process, before we’ve invested a lot of time in actually building the product.

What about you? What tools are you using for prototyping? How are prototypes helping you do your work better?