• UX Design

Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better?

Dmitry Balyn
2 Sep 2020
7 min
Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better?

In circumstances when the time to market is critical, and high-quality user experience is often a key differentiator of success, fast development is essential for any business. How can you react quickly but still have resources for full-cycle production? Rapid prototyping may be an answer you’re looking for.

When it comes to user experience design, rapid prototyping means creating simulations of the future website or system – fast. These simulations – prototypes – are an essential part of UX as they allow you to ensure that the idea works as intended before time and money are poured into its implementation. 

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    Before you start building a product, you should check whether it’s what your audience needs, whether it’s user-friendly, and if the logic makes sense. For that, you create a very simple version of your website, app, or solution. Depending on the product you’re developing and things you want to test, your prototype can vary from one drawn on paper to functional interactive models that users can try and feel. 

    What about rapid prototyping? How is it different?

    UX designers use rapid prototyping to create and test a product in the quickest and most cost-efficient way. Interestingly, rapid prototyping is not only about testing and validating the product with users; it’s a great means of cooperation between different teams and stakeholders within the project. And today, when #WFH (work from home) has become our routine, rapid prototyping is the backbone of many UI/UX projects. This is because the process is beneficial for all parties – users, teams of developers and designers, and investors. Let’s be more specific about the benefits.

    Perks of Rapid Prototyping

    Speed – yes. But does it affect quality? Again, yes, and in the right way: the final product will be more robust, well-tested, and user-friendly. Here’s why:

    • you save time as UX designers receive feedback early and, therefore, don’t need to make changes when development is in full swing
    • and you save money since you have all the logic tested during rapid prototyping and you don’t need to make costly architectural changes because of bugged UX later on
    • you can create multiple tests and iterations, where all team members have visual materials rather than just verbal descriptions to discuss 
    • plus, remote work is no problem as distributed teams can cooperate on digital prototypes from anywhere, keeping in touch with investors and users at the same time

    User experience designers can work with developers, QA specialists, and marketers on the early product prototypes. It will significantly simplify further development, allow avoiding faulty or cumbersome processes, and reduce the product’s time to market. It’s always better to show rather than tell, and the purpose of any prototype is to provide a platform for discussion and problem-solving. 

    How Do We Implement Rapid Prototyping in UX Design? 

    Let’s start with how the UX design process looks in general:

    1. Learning about the audience.
    2. Identifying the users’ needs.
    3. Generating ideas for the design.
    4. Prototyping.
    5. Testing the design.

    Trying to speed up the process, teams quite often miss the prototyping step and move directly to the UI creation. It usually results in problem-solving at the stage where it’s technically challenging and more time-consuming. For this reason, we recommend shifting the initial focus to functionality rather than the product’s look and feel. Decide how everything should work first, and only then think how visual design can complement functionality. 

    The rapid prototyping process should include:  

    • user research to understand your audience
    • a list of critical tasks for the part you’re prototyping 
    • rapid prototyping of your ideas 

    The simplest and cheapest way of rapid prototyping is sketching your ideas on paper or a board. The prototypes like these are called wireframes – basic boxes that help UX designers layout ideas and functions on the page. They are skeletal mockups aimed at helping the team figure out information architecture, accessibility, and usability of the product before bothering with the visual representation. These prototypes help test ideas and gather feedback from the stakeholders. 

    Sometimes, for more complex products, it’s better to use prototyping software. But the task remains the same: you have to keep it as simple as possible, without details or touching the UI. This low-fidelity technique helps designers highlight only the essentials, without diving into the aesthetic details too early. 

    Fidelity refers to the proximity of your wireframe or prototype to the final product and can be low, middle, and high. When we talk about sketches and wireframes, they are low-fidelity design. Moving further, you can build middle- and high-fidelity prototypes, depending on the development stage and product complexity. Note that you should start from wireframes and only then move to more detailed prototypes: getting straight to the higher levels takes too many assumptions and, therefore, is inefficient. 

    What should wireframes include? Basically, low-fidelity schemes have to cover the following aspects:

    • key elements of the layout
    • the location of the elements in the layout
    • no sense of scale, grid, or pixel-accuracy

    Sketching a single screen shouldn’t take more than several minutes: it’s like you’re drawing on the napkin at hand. They are useful during the meetings or brainstorming sessions, not to forget the idea that came to your mind. 

    While sketching is the first step, mid-fidelity prototypes need a little bit more detail. They still remain quite simple, but we can use some UX designer tools for rapid prototyping to scrape everything together. 

    What Tools To Use for Rapid Prototyping? 

    When you’ve passed the stage of simple sketching during brainstorming sessions, it’s time to move to the wireframe-building tools useful for rapid prototyping. Note that you move from the low-fidelity to the middle-fidelity prototypes, still staying away from the visual design. 

    Sketch

    This tool offers a shared cloud space where everyone can access the prototype. High-fidelity versions can be easily moved to development – no additional apps needed. It’s simplicity in moving to the third-party apps, great collaboration and prototyping means, and mockup capabilities make Sketch one of the top choices among UX and UI designers. 

    Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better? - photo 1https://www.sketch.com/

    InVision

    Being a product design platform, InVision can be used throughout the entire design process, from low-fidelity sketches to high-fidelity prototypes. You can start rapid prototyping with a digital whiteboard where the team can work simultaneously, comment, and gather feedback. It’s a perfect way out for designers working from home. 

    Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better? - photo 2https://www.invisionapp.com/inside-design/wireframe-examples/

    Balsamiq

    Balsamiq wireframes are perfect for low-fidelity rapid prototyping, applicable for the stages of sketching, wireframing, and building mockups. With its help, team members with little design experience, or even clients will be able to create actionable prototypes. 

    Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better? - photo 3https://blog.balsamiq.com/wireframes-for-desktop-launch/

    Axure RP

    To rapidly prototype web apps and websites, Axure comes with a set of handy functions and zero coding. Besides design tools, Axure has SVG import and integrates with Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD. 

    Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better? - photo 4https://docs.axure.com/axure-rp/reference/environment/

    Adobe XD

    This prototyping tool from Adobe needs zero coding to create a prototype – just drag and drop everything you need. You can use Adobe XD all the way from the low-fidelity wireframes to high-fidelity interactive prototypes without struggling to keep all your designs in synchronization. It allows the generation of design specs and real-time collaboration, reviewing, and sharing. Adobe XD has multiple plugins and integrations, from Photoshop to Slack and Jira.

    Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better? - photo 5https://www.creativebloq.com/how-to/prototype-a-mobile-app-with-adobe-xd

    UXPin

    This tool requires no coding either, has a vast widget library with simple drag-and-drop elements, and has Sketch and Photoshop plugins. UXPin is an entire design platform rather than a solely prototyping tool. Built-in libraries, interactive features, and vector drawing tools will help move from the low-fidelity to more real-looking design. Combined with optional React.js components synchronization, you can easily use UXPin throughout several stages of your product design.

    Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better? - photo 6https://www.uxpin.com/

    JustinMind 

    JustinMind also helps designers all the way from wireframing to high-fidelity prototyping. The tool offers instant prototype visualization, which is perfect for rapid prototyping and verifying ideas with the stakeholders. Simultaneous team prototyping is available as well. JustinMind integrates with Adobe suite, Sketch, Jira, and several user testing tools.

    Rapid Prototyping: Faster. Better? - photo 7https://www.justinmind.com/prototyping-tool-web#:~:text=Design%20life-like%20prototypes

    Wrapping Up

    While UX designers create wireframes all the time, adding just the right amount of detail to rapidly and efficiently prototype can be tricky. Everything depends on your aim: with whom you will be sharing the prototype and what feedback you’re expecting to receive. So, for different stages of project development, you will use different prototypes with various fidelity levels.

    To sum up, rapid prototyping on the initial stage of UX design should communicate the concept, showcase the layout, provide the sequence of wireframes. Content details, scale, and pixel accuracy should be left for another stage. With this approach, you’ll start on the project’s UX in the right way and move further step by step. 

    If you need more details on how we rapidly prototype or how our UX design process looks, drop us a line, and we’ll answer all your questions. 

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