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Design | User Experience | 8th May

All about rapid prototyping

If you’ve been anywhere recently, you’ll have no doubt heard the term “rapid prototyping”. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you’ve been anywhere around our team recently, then you’ll definitely have heard the term “rapid prototyping” and might have wondered what rapid prototyping is and why we’re so hyped about it. Well, let’s explain.

What is a prototype?

I’ll ease you in gently: A prototype is an interactive simulation of a final product that is then validated through testing and refined into the final product. They’re an important part of the design process, and they’re great because:


  • They get ideas out of heads, into real life - demonstrating proof of concept; and

  • Allow us to get useful feedback on usability from real interactions. 


Low-fidelity and high-fidelity.

How closely the prototype represents the finished product is known as the prototype’s “fidelity” and ranges from low to high. We like to initially pencil and paper our ideas out in low-fidelity, which allows us to concentrate on hierarchy and flows. Next we work at a higher fidelity, bringing our initial sketches that are full of basic shapes and dummy text, slightly closer to a system that someone can relate to. Once we have gathered feedback and made iterations to our sketches we move into the high-fidelity digital prototype that begins to closely resembles a finished product, with detailed visuals, texts and interactions.

When creating a digital high-fidelity prototype we use Sketch and InVision to ensure our visuals look and feel as close to the final product as they can.

We don’t stop iterating once we reach the digital prototype, these prototypes go through testing even more rigorously than our sketches and necessary changes are made to ensure we end up with the best product we can.

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What is rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is essentially mini-prototyping. It involves quickly mocking up the bare minimum of a product or an idea, testing it, tweaking it and then repeating the process until you get to a digital version. No bells or whistles, boots or buckles - just enough to test each time.

The benefits of rapid prototyping.

So, with no boots or buckles, what are the benefits of rapid prototyping? Well:

  • It’s quick and cheap, which means that you can conduct rapid prototyping regularly throughout the development process;

  • It can start very early on the process, hopefully preventing any large-scale changes later;

  • It enables you to get lots of ideas out into the open and then test them;

  • The high turn-around speed enables work to continue seamlessly; and 

  • Feedback is gained on small (but essential) parts of the design that may be missed during full product testing. 


Ultimately, rapid prototyping leads to a better overall design, quicker - increasing the speed to market and improving end-user satisfaction.

How to conduct rapid prototyping.

Once you’ve decided a clear purpose and set of requirements for your product, the process of rapid prototyping simply involves:

Building the prototype > testing the prototype > refining the UI design > repeating.

The detail comes with the type of prototype created for each itineration.

The rapid prototyping journey.

Different digital agencies will follow slightly different rapid prototyping journeys (that’s what makes us all so interesting). At New Sock Media, we’ll typically begin with:

Ideation

Ideas are quickly translated into rough paper sketches that demonstrate the basic design. These can be individual elements of the design, that are then used to make up the whole design later on. This releases ideas and thoughts out into the open that are quick to alter, adapt, discard and keep.

Sketch

The next stage in the process is wireframes. Wireframes look more like an end system and can range from low to high-fidelity. They showcase the layout of content, using boxes and rough shapes, and include some interactivity and user flows, with limited design work.

We run tests with our sketches, and use paper prototypes to simulate how we intend the end product to work. This allows us to get early feedback and make quick adjustments.

Digital prototype

Once the mockup has been validated, a digital prototype can be built, adding further interactivity and stitching screens together to make the design look and feel like the end product - ready for user testing and feedback.

inVision-Proto.jpg

Rapid prototyping final tips.

And that’s a pit-stop tour of what rapid prototyping is and how we conduct it at New Socks Media. But, before you head off to conduct your own rapid prototyping, don’t forget:

Rapid prototyping works best what you have a clear purpose for each prototype;
 Don’t get too attached - expect prototypes to be replaced with an improved version; and
 Feedback and validation are crucial to the process.


Good luck and, most importantly, enjoy - rapid prototyping is an exciting journey from vision to creation.

Written by
Nicole Bartlett
Nicole is a UI Designer and Design Sprint Facilitator at New Socks Media.

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