Prototyping is an essential part of the UX design process. It is one of the main tools in the UX designer's arsenal. It saves time and money in the long run while ensuring alignment among all involved stakeholders.
Prototyping helps you create an interactive version of an idea or a final product, which is a good way to show everyone involved how it will work.
It is important that you create a prototype as early as possible in your design process. It helps you to identify potential issues long before a product or idea goes into production.
Prototyping is also important because it can ensure that the design can be used for the needs of the user. It is worth noting here that the sooner you start testing and validating your ideas, the better.
As I said before, when you try to build something, you often want to keep an eye on how the project is going. You might want to take a look at the design, or maybe the code. Prototyping is a way for you to see your project without having to fully develop it. It is a way for you to get a feel for how everything will work, and it allows you to make quick changes as you go.
So, here are some situations when prototypes come in handy, such as:
Test or validate assumptions:
These assumptions can be based on previous research or common knowledge
Test or validate ideas:
If the way their content is laid out makes sense,
When you want to test if users prefer one layout over another
If the content makes sense in a specific context as it was originally intended
In general, when you are testing ideas and getting feedback, prototypes help so much.
An excellent way to create a prototype is to start by sketching out the idea on paper, and then slowly move to dedicated prototyping tools.
When designing a product, you have to go through multiple steps to get the final product. This can be time-consuming and tedious. However, there is another option. You can create a prototype. A prototype is essentially a blueprint of the product that you want to create. It helps you deal with different issues before the product is ready for production. You can even use a prototype as a sample to submit to investors.
There are three main types of prototypes (while usually in the UX community, you will encounter only 2 types: low, and high fidelity prototypes, I think the high fidelity type is not clearly defined, and it has a wide range), that you can create, and they each have their own advantages and disadvantages. The first type is low-fidelity prototypes that can be rough sketches or paper-based. This is the easiest type to create, but the disadvantage is that it can only be used for demonstration and some initial testing. The second type is the medium-fidelity prototypes (and they come in a digital form). They usually include some aspects of the final design, but in terms of interactivity, they are minimal. The last type is high-fidelity prototypes. They are similar to the medium type but richer in terms of interactivity. The advantage of this type is that it can be used to test and demonstrate the design and functionality. While this is the most complex to create, it has many benefits, including being closer to a real simulation of the product and allowing UX designers to capture real user feedback through user testing.
User testing can be done with any of these types, but the medium fidelity is generally recommended due to being relatively less time-consuming versus its usefulness in communicating.
These days there are a lot of prototyping tools for UX designers, and it can be quite challenging to choose a tool that's the best fit for you.
As we've seen before there are multiple types of prototypes and to make it easier to pick the right tool, the list below is grouped based on the type of prototypes that can be produced. All of these prototyping tools are actual tools that I've used and found to be useful.
Adobe XD - A powerful vector-based and user-friendly design tool for creating websites, apps, and more. It's perfect for designers who want to streamline their workflow and create stunning designs and prototypes quickly.
Figma - A design tool that allows for dynamic prototypes and mockups to be built, tested for usability, and synced all in one place. Multiple people can work on or view a project simultaneously with Figma, much like Google Docs. This feature lets you see who has the project open in real-time, for easy collaboration.
Axure RP - A well-known prototyping tool with a lot of history, it has been around for years. You can create almost any kind of prototype from simple ones to more complex ones with variables and logic without writing a single line of code (well, when dealing with the complexity you will need to write some expressions).
Justinmind - Another prototyping and wireframing tool that allows the creation of high-fidelity prototypes for web and mobile apps. It offers collaboration, interaction, and design features, with the ability to share prototypes on the cloud and simulate them with mobile devices.
Flinto - This Mac-only app allows you to create interactive and animated prototypes for mobile and desktop applications. With Flinto, you can create engaging and realistic user experiences that can be tested and refined before building the actual product.
Prototyping is an important step in the design process and is essential in successful UX projects. But we have to keep in mind that prototyping it's also a very time-consuming and expensive exercise that sometimes might not be worthwhile. In general, it is recommended to use medium-fidelity prototypes because they are less time-consuming and more useful in communicating the idea, allowing rapid iteration.
So, in the end, creating prototypes can save you time and frustration when creating a product, and it can ensure that the design or solution can be used, and it fits the needs of the user.