UX prototypes can be powerful tools to explore new design concepts, challenge preconceptions, validate assumptions, and bring designs to life. Their ultimate purpose is to facilitate learnings that help effect a better product. In my experience, prototypes that have had a critical impact on a product’s design were those that:
- Were conceived to address specific questions that were fundamental to the success of the design.
- Were executed quickly and early in the design process.
- And, provided clear direction on what to do next.
Why rapid prototyping isn’t enough
Over the past decade, the terms “rapid prototyping” and “iterative prototyping” have become synonymous in the UX and product design communities as a way of refining a design through prototyping. They both articulate a three-step flywheel composed of the following:
Conceptually, this is the “learn by doing” process that we’ve all used to get better at just about everything.
However, in terms of defining a framework for impactful prototyping, this process is largely oversimplified and incomplete.
It is incomplete in that it does not provide a framework to help you make calculated decisions on what your prototype should focus on, what to bias for and against when building it, and most importantly, how to create prototypes that address the critical components of a design. It is oversimplified in that it tends to suggest that the process of quickly creating and evaluating prototypes is enough to illuminate the path toward a better product.
I’ve seen designers and prototypers alike rapidly iterate through a flurry of prototypes, but still have little impact on the overall design of a product because they did not make informed and purposeful decisions on what they prototyped and when, how they prototyped, or what they hoped to learn through prototyping.