As a child, I didn’t have a really good idea about what I wanted to be as an adult. If asked though, I don’t think I would have responded, “I haven’t decided, but I sure hope that I can’t explain it simply to my relatives.”
Welcome to the not-so-wide-world of prototyping, that odd stage of web and app design where your product isn’t quite a sketch, isn’t quite a design, and isn’t quite in development, but rather some mish-mash of all of those things. For a hybrid designer/nerdling like myself, it’s heaven in its beautiful blend of aesthetics and best practices with a bunch of research and practical knowledge rolled in.
The industry is divided right now on the best way to build a website and user experience from scratch. Some advocate jumping directly into designs from sketches. Others vie for a system that builds everything in a browser, a series of web builds that increase in fidelity over time. Others use low fidelity wireframes as a high level blueprint before moving on. At r2i, we’ve developed a process using Axure that outputs high fidelity wireframes and prototypes on a timeline that varies with the product.
Why do we prototype though? What does it accomplish?
1. It’s time for failure! (Find problems)
Ideas come from everywhere while you’re working on solving a problem. Not only is our team constantly collecting and absorbing new ways of displaying information, clients often have ideas that they need to see rendered. In order to vet an idea, we need to have it executed in a tangible way so we can experience it, show it to others, and test the concepts.
Sketches can be too low fidelity to spot problems, especially when the challenge is in the details of a user interface. Designs can root out these problems and often do, but at the expense of interactivity, time, or distraction resulting from the style of the elements. Developing the site traditionally can be brutally time expensive, especially when you’re dealing with an enterprise level team that works in departments.
Axure and other rapid prototyping software hit a sweet spot here by providing a balance of functionality and design. In a few hours, we can knock out a version of a page that is tangible, interactive, and useful in finding problems. We can show it to the client, to the dev team, to potential users, and spot errors early on in the process. By letting the idea fail early, we save ourselves time and the goodwill of our clients.
About the Author: Lucas Roe
Lucas Roe is a web dork and UX designer from Baltimore. He is on a relentless pursuit of craftsmanship in everything from websites to cocktails, with an unhealthy fixation where nerd and hipster cultures clash together. At R2integrated he works in User Experience Design and Wireframing while researching user trends and being a fount of pointless information. He spends his spare time voiding warranties on his devices and reading the whole internet.