Prototyping is a common approach for developing a mock or sample product to help test concepts before building out the real thing. It's used in all different industries and can come in all shapes and forms.
In this article, I'll look at what a prototype looks like for online platforms and apps, and how it can help you build a better product.
What is a prototype?
A prototype is anything that represents your future product to a user. Traditionally, in manufacturing, this might have been a sample of a piece of clothing or something cobbled together to show how the product might work.
Today, when it comes to platforms and apps, the approach is the same. You want to build something that represents your future product without actually building the whole thingdf.
As software isn't a physical product that you can create a sample of, the most popular way to prototype is to create something called a clickable prototype.
What is a clickable prototype?
A clickable prototype is a collection of medium or high-fidelity wireframes that represent what a customer might need to do to complete a task. These wireframes are put into a computer, where you add some 'buttons' and 'links' that allow people to navigate through your prototype.
There are prototyping applications you can use, such as InVision, Balsamiq, and Acrobat XD, that provide a set of tools to help you build and get feedback on your prototype. You can also use something like PowerPoint or Keynote. Even some hand drawn pictures can work as well. The video below gives you an example of what a prototype looks like.
The main idea is that people have something to see and 'hold' in order to better understand what you want to do.
So, when do you do all of this?!
There are two main areas where you can use prototypes:
- Validate an idea
- Test your design
1. Validate an idea
If you find your idea is hard to explain to potential customers and users, then a prototype is a one way to illustrate what your platform or app will do. By building a prototype, you can get feedback on your idea, and get input into what you need to include in your product. You might find some features are more important than others, which might change the way you prioritise your app's development.
2. Test your design
Prototypes are also good at testing your product's user experience. The prototype represents how your users will navigate through your system. You want to find out which parts are easy to use, and which aren't. By getting people to play with your prototype, you can identify how well the solution addresses their problems based on its usability.
Why would you prototype?
If used correctly, prototyping will give you a more informed idea of what you should be building, so that you can get people to use it. Prototyping will also allow you to build a better product, so that the people using it will keep using it.
Ultimately, both of these things reduce the risk of you spending money unnecessarily. If you can't build the prototype yourself, it will cost you some money. However, spending a small amount of money to discover you're building the wrong thing is way better than spending months, and a lot more money building something that isn't what you need.
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