Interaction design prototyping is one of the powerful skills that designers can master. The process of interaction design prototyping begins with creating simple wireframes and ends at fully functional mockup designs. Many workplaces fraught with peril if the process of prototyping is skipped in lieu of just “drawing wireframes” and sending them to developers to build.
It doesn’t matter how carefully your business creates app prototypes, it is always recommended to go through every stage of prototyping. A diligent execution of the interaction design prototyping process is the driver to your app success.
Even though it is evident that the interaction design prototyping does positively affect the success factor of your app, there isn't any clarity about how to build a prototype successfully. Ask many designers about the standard process of prototyping and most of them will seem confused, saying “What do you mean by the standard process? You simply just create prototypes.” They are right too, we all know how to create prototypes. We just lack the acknowledgement of “how we know”.
However, in current times, app prototyping is being considered as a milestone for the mobile app development process. Also, there are many mobile app prototyping services providers that reduce the load of software development companies by providing them with graphic designing outsourcing.
Now the clients and managers want to see how prototyping is done and what are the best practices for prototyping. They want to know the various aspects of interaction design prototyping and understand the workflow. Thus, it has become necessary for designers to follow a process of prototyping.
What is a Prototype?
Prototype is a tool to visualize an array of interactive design work; when seen in effect, the prototype seems like an amalgamation of all the work that has been completed into a single functional piece.
Why Prototyping is necessary for Mobile App Development?
Humans are heavily dependent on their visual capability. As a matter of fact, 30 percent of our cerebral cortex is totally devoted to vision. When the client or your manager sees your app prototype, they clearly understand the way their app will function. App prototype brings the app idea to life.
There are plenty of methods for every individual aspect of prototype development i.e. wireframing and designing. Thus, it is very easy to miss or skip some of the important parts of prototype development. It makes it more crucial to have a standard prototype process.
In simple terms, the prototypes can be considered a way to demonstrate the app functionality.
The aforementioned practical definition of prototyping implies the following game-changing effects on your app strategy:
- Bring ideas to life
The app idea is only conceptual until the app prototype comes alive. The reason behind making the idea look realistic before the development is to make the concept understandable to the investors and other stakeholders. The prototype is the first step towards the actualisation of the app idea.
- Solving a problem
While designing the user journey, you might come up with design challenges that aren’t possible to solve without having the app in hand. In such cases, prototyping makes it possible for the app designers and architects to visualise the problem and make out the solution.
- Efficient iterations
It is inefficient and expensive to develop and test mobile app iterations. This is where prototyping comes in to help you evolve your app idea by making iterations fasters and smarter. The interaction design prototyping helps designers and app developers understand and test a plethora of user behaviours.
- Gives a new perspective to the app idea
Once the app idea becomes visible with the prototype, you will have a new perspective towards it.This will provide you with a better context about what ideally your app should look like. This way, you may find some issues such as usability which you haven’t thought of whilst developing the app concept.
Things to know before beginning the Prototyping Process
Knowing what the app is about isn’t enough to begin with the prototyping process. Prototypes are built using a variety of information and it is crucial for you to gather all of these from the client or your manager. You can consider the following checklist to make sure you have all you need before developing the prototype.
Know the Goals of the Mobile App
What are the needs of the users that the app solves and how does it do this? This is the first question that comes in most of the developer’s mind before they start the prototyping process. And undoubtedly, it is critical to know the app’s utility to deliver a viable solution.
Know your Audience and their Actual Need
The target audience behaviour and needs vary as per their demographics and persona details. Understanding the demography and needs of the user will provide you with a clear understanding of what actually has to be done with the mobile app UX. It will gear your prototype towards fulfilling your actual customer needs.
Type of App and the Device it is intended for
As there are many technologies and devices available, the UX designers will have to know how the app will be used? Will it be a native or hybrid app? Which devices is it compatible for? What are the different coexisting versions that will be available for the users?
Does the App have Precedents?
Though, UX designers shouldn't need to ask such questions about precedents, as the app owners or the managers should be proactive enough to let them know. If the app already exists, it might need improvements or a complete redesign.
Know the level of Prototyping required
The expectation about the deliverables should be clear to let you plan accordingly. Every project has different scope and requirements, some may only require you to design UI while some will ask you to create a clickable prototype.
The Prototyping Process
When you have the data available and organised, it is time to start drawing the app layouts.
Draw the Wireframes
Many time designers think that they already have an idea about the suitable app layout and that they don’t need to draw wireframes. Instead they just visualise in their mind what the design should look like. Some believe that drawing wireframes doesn’t seem to make a significant difference, but in reality, it really does. The purpose of drawing sketches or wireframes is to explore available space and identify what is possible. Your wireframe drawings will possibly include the following pieces:
- User flow
Most probably, client or manager provides UX designers with app user flows. If not, the UX designers can take reference from the app’s competitors about the user flow. The user flow will give you a clear idea of what the designers are supposed to do.
- User intractability
Depending on the user flow there will be some inputs and outputs required from the users. The UX designer will identify the interactions users will require to do and create the user interface based on those findings.
When the designers know who will use the system and how they will interact with the app, they can draw an initial set of sketches to start visualising the app based on the user flow. The designers aren’t supposed to create the final layout yet. This is the stage where they will prove the app flow.
- Sketch the initial layout
After when the user flows are sketched, the UX designers will know the elements and user interactions which are to be included in every screen. This is the time to draw initial sketches that will include the required content(photos, text, icons, etc.), which will be shown as basic scribbles and boxes. However, the sketches will be drawn by hand, so they will surely fit to size but won’t be for actual use.
The best designers use professional sketch pads or tools that help them make clear wireframes while sketching. Sketch pads provide the best viewpoint in question and are enormously low-cost. These provide correct aspect ratio and gridlines for multiple devices and are tremendously useful for those who are messy with their drawing.
The process of sketching can last as long as you want, but when the sketches impress your manager or client, it’s time to move on. However, it is smart to bounce back and forth between sketching and designing digital wireframes. This will make the app feel more concrete and complete.
Transform to Digital - the high fidelity Prototype
Once, the sketches are finalised, the UX designers will start digitising them. Be it Adobe XD, Sketch, Illustrator, or any other mobile app design software, digitising the sketches is the first step to formalise them. In this stage, the focus shifts from adding necessary elements to creatively organise the assets and design the app screens.
The mobile app takes shape as the digitised sketches become more practical and structured. While moving to digital prototypes, the fidelity depends on the extent of visual design, interactivity, and content. The best UI/UX designs will exceed in all these three aspects of mobile app design.
Over the past few years, the clickable prototypes have become extremely popular. The credit goes to interaction design prototyping software tools such as InVision and Adobe XD. These mobile prototyping tools provide a space to test the mobile app prototype designs directly on a test device. Hence, interaction design prototypes are the best way to test app usability and animations, and are therefore cumbersome to test without having a functional action.
Common mistakes you should avoid while Prototyping
- Under-utilizing mobile app prototyping
Gone are the days when the mobile app prototyping tools used to provide limited functionality to mimic a final product. Modern tools enable you to create a prototype that is virtually indistinguishable from the actual app. But unfortunately, some designers and developers believe that these tools are still in their early days and provide limited functionality, which certainly isn’t the case.
- Treating usability testing as an afterthought
The usability testing is an integrated part of prototyping and it is essential to conduct the test. This process gives you accurate feedback from the users (the users can be your peers, managers, or clients). It is difficult for potential users to look solely at the sketch and tell you the flaws. They need something concrete to judge, and the prototype will be the perfect dummy app for them.
- Considering the prototype a final product
Are you surprised to see this as being listed as something you should avoid? It is experienced by many mobile app development companies that mobile app prototypes aren’t the same as the final product replica. Yes, the first couple of prototype drafts are very near to the final product, but they aren't the same in most cases. There are likely to be many iterations to reach the desired outcome.
- Sticking to only one prototyping tool
Another common mistake designers make. As they feel comfortable to work on the tools they have experience in, they don’t try others which can have better features and functionalities. For instance, some prototyping tools don’t support VR while others limit interoperability. Therefore, we’ve created a list of best mobile app design prototyping tools in 2020.
Always Prototype with Purpose
Everything we do has a purpose, so does the prototyping. The prototyping process must begin and finish with a purpose. You should not be carrying our prototyping without having an idea about why any particular screen needs to have certain content or functionality. You should also be asking yourself whether the user will need a funnel or not, and if yes, why?
Even if the UX designers build the app prototypes very intelligently, considering the information architecture as a map, it is very likely that they would miss some things. This is one of the challenges of prototyping. Managers, clients, even the designers themselves forget that the app prototypes aren’t final. They’re just iterations. See them as drafts until the next version comes out.
So when you’ve finished prototyping an app, always ask yourself, will this mobile app design meet the purpose? If yes, it's time to develop the actual app.If not, consider it as another opportunity for iteration.