Speeding up your Prototyping

Perhaps you’re an entrepreneur and you want to build the next big app. Your app delivers many features, all right at the user’s fingertips. A particular feature of your app will take many lines of code to build. However, a feature that might take 10 hours to code, might only take 10 minutes of drafting to present as an idea and gain valuable feedback. Plus, who knows if the end users will even like the feature!

Efficiently gathering user feedback and applying it towards future prototypes as your app progresses through the development lifecycle can not only save time and money, but it can also be critical to your app’s success in the marketplace.

Prototype Fidelity & User Research

Why should you bother to prototype your app? Not only will prototyping save time and money, but the real intent is to convey the story of your app to users to gain constructive feedback that can be incorporated into design improvements. Most importantly, the ultimate goal is to deliver the best user experience and convert users to advocates for your app. Prototyping is the process of improving your app to do just that.

Prototypes don’t have to be built using elegant mediums like clickable screens. Sometimes it’s as simple as drawing out user flows on an old-fashioned piece of paper and presenting them to a co-worker. A common pitfall I notice is that many developers spend way too much time and invest way too much emotion into a prototype. Prototypes are meant to be cheap and fast. The focus should not be on the prototype itself, but rather on the process of prototyping. Don’t be afraid to scrap a prototype. Being scared to try something different only hinders your creative capabilities.

User Feedback

If the focus should be on gathering user feedback and applying it towards future prototypes, where exactly do we find all these users? Well, there are many types of feedback, but let’s not lose sight of our ultimate goal – to deliver a great user experience so that users become brand advocates as well. In this case, the quality of the feedback takes a much higher precedence than the quantity.

The well-known Jakob Nielsen explains in his article that you don’t need elaborate (and expensive) user testing. In fact, you really only need about 5 users to thoroughly flush out usability problems in your app.

The process of capturing feedback from users can be just as important as who you are gathering feedback from. Target specific questions to ask the user. Get the user to think aloud and clearly articulate what they are thinking as they progress through your app. An important aspect to keep in mind is to avoid guiding the user too much. Make a note as to where they get confused and observe how they go about using features in your app. Again, keep simplicity in mind. You don’t need anything fancy to capture user feedback; a paper and pencil or a camera phone will work just fine.

The Evil Prototyping Pitfall

Now back to that pitfall we discussed earlier. What if user feedback uncovered that the placement of a floating action button was confusing for users and created a terrible user experience. Worse yet, you spent several hours (or longer!) developing the code behind this button. Rather than scrapping a 10-minute design you drew out on paper, you may have thrown out a lot more.

The key is to avoid building a sleek, polished prototype when it might just end up having obvious flaws to a new user. Instead, take valuable feedback gathered from users and apply it to continually revamp your prototypes and conduct further research. At the end of the day, you want to see users getting visibly excited about using your app.

Building a powerful user experience is not achieved by a single great prototype, but rather through an iterative process of building many quick and inexpensive prototypes that have incorporated the user’s feedback.