Design Better And Faster With Rapid Prototyping

The old adage, “a picture speaks a thousand words” captures what user interface prototyping is all about: using visuals to describe thousands of words’ worth of design and development specifications that detail how a system should behave and look. In an iterative approach to user interface design, rapid prototyping is the process of quickly mocking up the future state of a system, be it a website or application, and validating it with a broader team of users, stakeholders, developers and designers. Doing this rapidly and iteratively generates feedback early and often in the process, improving the final design and reducing the need for changes during development.

Prototypes range from rough paper sketches to interactive simulations that look and function like the final product. The keys to successful rapid prototyping are revising quickly based on feedback and using the appropriate prototyping approach. Rapid prototyping helps teams experiment with multiple approaches and ideas, it facilitates discussion through visuals instead of words, it ensures that everyone shares a common understanding, and it reduces risk and avoids missed requirements, leading to a better design faster.

The Rapid Prototyping Process

Rapid prototyping involves multiple iterations of a three-step process:

  1. Prototype
    Convert the users’ description of the solution into mock-ups, factoring in user experience standards and best practices.
  2. Review
    Share the prototype with users and evaluate whether it meets their needs and expectations.
  3. Refine
    Based on feedback, identify areas that need to be refined or further defined and clarified.

The rapid prototyping process: prototype - review - refine

The prototype usually starts small, with a few key areas mocked up, and grows in breadth and depth over multiple iterations as required areas are built out, until the prototype is finalized and handed off for development of the final product. The rapidness of the process is most evident in the iterations, which range from real-time changes to iteration cycles of a few days, depending on the scope of the prototype.

By for Smashingmagazine.com