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Prototyping in UX design

Prototyping methods in UX design

Prototyping is a way for UX designers to transform their ideas into a tangible artefact that users can engage with. A prototype is a preliminary version of the product you are designing that makes some or all of its relevant features comprehensible.

The primary purpose of a prototype is to allow you to easily share your ideas with others and collect feedback about whether your proposed solution meets your users’ needs. Prototyping also acts as an extension of ideation: testing the prototypes you have built can help you to further refine your ideas by helping you to understand how a user will interact with your proposed solution.

Prototyping offers the following benefits:

  • It creates a common understanding within the design team and establishes clarity early on in the development cycle.
  • It allows you to test your ideas quickly, cheaply, and early on in the process and elicit user feedback to use for improvements in the next iteration.
  • It helps clients to visualise how the final design solution will work and means they do not have to wait until the final product to give feedback.

Iteration in prototyping and testing

Like many things in the UX design process, prototyping, testing, and refining your ideas is also an iterative process. UX designers will cycle through the following steps multiple times.

Step 1: Design and build the prototype

The type of prototype you should build will depend on what you are trying to model and test. For example, are you designing something physical or digital or a hybrid of the two? Are you trying to test a particular feature or function, or are you trying to test the user experience of the solution as a whole?
Generally speaking, this step should involve answering the following questions: 

  • What am I testing with this prototype?
  • What level of detail is needed? (You will learn more about this later this week.)
  • What type of prototype should I use (digital or physical)?
  • What tools will I need to develop the prototype?

Step 2: Test the prototype

Prototyping allows us to make an idea tangible so that we can test it. Testing our prototypes allows us to validate our assumptions and gather feedback that we can use to improve our design. With the first version of the prototype built, it’s time to go out in the real world and test it with users.

How you approach testing will depend on what you need to get out of it. For example, if you are looking for something simple, you can try the Starbucks testing method. This method was first used by UX designer Justin Barr Young as a part of guerilla testing. He would simply ask five people to provide some quick feedback in exchange for a cup of coffee. In this approach, the people providing feedback may not be the stakeholders or even your intended customers.

 The testing step involves answering the following questions:

  • What should I show users as a prototype? 
  • How should I test the prototype with users?
  • How should I record the feedback I gather during testing?

Step 3: Integrate feedback

After testing the prototype, you will use the feedback you gathered to refine your design solution. Feedback is a gift that allows us to learn and move forward with an idea. 

This step should involve answering the following questions:

  • What insights can we gain from the feedback that was not apparent before?
  • How can we implement what we have learned?

Step 4: Keep iterating!

When you have used your feedback to refine your design, the loop starts all over. You’ll develop a prototype for your refined design and test this version with users. UX design is the process of improving the experience of products and services through continuous user inputs. 

Over to you

Who should you consider including in your prototyping process? What stakeholders, internal and external, can you identify that are involved at this stage of the UX design process?
Think about the types of stakeholders related to prototyping in general and then those specific to your design challenge and potential prototype. In the comments, share a description of the stakeholders you have identified and why you think they should be included in the prototyping process and testing process.
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Introduction to UX Design

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