August 11, 2015

The Power of Prototyping

A prototype is the best place to start building your app. Learn about how you can quickly build a prototype of your app to help others understand your idea.
Lauren Schommer
lauren@app-press.com

Lauren helps App Press customers make beautiful, engaging mobile apps every day.

"Do I really need a prototype? Can’t I just describe my app idea? Why is a prototype a necessary step when scoping a project?"

Customers ask this series of questions daily. Can you describe your app in detail? Yes. 

Will others have a solid understanding of what the app will look like and how it will function? Probably not. According to the Social Science Research Network, more than 65% of the world’s population are visual learners. 

The use of a visual aid will help others process and understand your app idea. 

Okay, so I need a prototype. How nice does it need to look?

The quality of your prototype will depend on your audience. Are you building an internal prototype that only your team members will see? Are you ready to start user testing? Do you need to pitch your app idea to raise funds? The level of fidelity is entirely dependent on who will be interacting with the prototype and for what purpose. 

Low fidelity app design sketch

Low-fidelity, hand drawn sketch

For internal use, a hand-drawn wireframe is a great place to start. Quick iterations on the design will allow you to gain valuable feedback from stakeholders early on in the design process. 

What ultimately matters is that you and your team have a solid understanding of the app’s functionality and how a user will interact with the app. As the project evolves you can add more detail, fill in with real data, and eventually make the prototype functional.  

Medium fidelity app design

Medium-fidelity - bare bones wireframe

If you’re ready for user testing, it’s most important to focus on the practicality and usability of your prototype. While the visual design begins to come into play more at this stage, the validation of the app's function is the focal point of user testing. 

Be sure to include enough information and visual elements to gather reliable feedback. At this stage, a medium-fidelity prototype with minimal design is perfect. The feedback that you receive will help as you develop a more detailed prototype later on.  

High fidelity app prototype

High-fidelity prototype 

Looking for funding? Your pitch should be short, sweet, and to the point. At the same time, the more polished the presentation, the better. 

A high-fidelity project will seem far more professional than a hand drawn sketch on the back of a napkin (napkin sketches are the start of many great ideas, but they're best for internal use). A high-fidelity app doesn’t mean that you have to have every screen prepared. 

Focus on the most important systematic screens within the app experience. Do you have a user login? Do users create profiles? What does the app icon look like? Focusing on these key elements can help you provide a clear overview of the app while still allowing for further development.  

What type of information should I use as placeholder content?

While we’re all tempted to use generic placeholder text, names, and images, your prototype will be more effective if you use real information. Creating authentic placeholder text is relatively quick and easy. 

If you’re building an app for a client, consider using copy from their website, or write it yourself. Use images from free stock photography websites, or consider paying a few dollars for a stunning photo. 

Names? There are millions of names in the world - be creative. Ultimately, you want the prototype to be well understood by all who come into contact with it. The use of real information creates a more accurate context which means you will receive better feedback. 

What is the value of creating and using a prototype?

If you are designing an app for a client, you want to make sure that your beautiful design meets their standards. By creating several iterations of prototypes, your design can evolve alongside your client’s concept to ensure that everyone is on the same page. By the time features need to be developed, you have a refined, client approved design. 

If you’re creating the UI/UX, but relying on outside services for development of custom features, it’s important that the development team understands how everything will work together. Without a prototype for visual reference, it is difficult for engineers to understand where one feature will plug into the app and how it might affect functionality elsewhere. Communication is key, and for your app to both look and function effectively it is very important that visual references are available.  

The true value of a prototype isn’t just in how it looks, but how it serves the app development process. Prototypes help connect the dots along the way and ensure that all parties involved have a mutual understanding of the final result. Through the use of a prototype you can reduce the risk of problems down the road by identifying potential design issues early on. Prototyping allows you to lower the overall cost and time spent in the design phase. 

How much will a prototype cost?

The biggest factors to consider when estimating the cost to build a prototype are how many resources you have on hand to help you build, and how polished your prototype needs to look.

A rough internal diagram will obviously cost less than a polished prototype designed to get potential investors interested. Here's a post we wrote with some more information about how much you can expect to spend building your prototype.

Wondering how you can start building a prototype? App Press is a great tool for building highly-polished, interactive prototypes. Contact the App Press support team and we will help you get started today!

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