App Prototyping: 8 Most Common Methods & Best Practices

  • What is prototyping?
  • Why do you need prototypes?
  • Types of prototyping
  • 8 prototyping methods and examples
  • How to choose the right prototyping methods?
  • App prototyping tools that you cannot miss out
  • App prototyping best practices

What is prototyping?

Prototyping is the process of creating a paper or digital visual presentation model or sample of your app or website concept, so you and your team can keep testing and iterating the interface, interaction and other prototype details to get rid of all non-executive assumptions in advance.

Why do you need prototypes?

As an app design beginner, you may want to ask: “Why is prototyping so important?” Here are 5 reasons why you should create prototypes before starting developing your concepts:

  • Adjust app details at a faster speed Without going through the development process every time you’ve created a prototype, regardless of a paper or digital one, you can always adjust the details quickly to get a new version, so you can keep testing your assumptions as soon as possible.
  • Test and iterate your ideas at a lower cost A paper or digital prototype allows you to iterate your design ideas with few resources and at a low cost. Creating a prototype is far cheaper than creating a fully developed app.
  • Present your ideas to others more clearly Having a tangible prototype makes it easy to demonstrate your ideas to stakeholders and clients, gaining your valuable feedback during the design process
  • Find all possible issues early on Creating an interactive prototype early on allows you to go through real user flows and app features as if you were the user, helping you test how target users will use your app and if there are any issues with how you have implemented user flows and features.
  • Get helpful feedback quickly In comparison to explaining all ideas to customers, clients and other stakeholders, you can give them a working prototype for them to test out and imitate the users’ actions, helping teams get important feedback from them.

Types of prototyping

When it comes to software prototyping, there are commonly two types of prototyping:

  • Low-fidelity prototyping — shows the most fundamental structure, visuals, user flows and layouts so you can focus entirely on the base concept without any distracting UI elements. Low-fi prototyping is often the most early design of an app or website.
  • High-fidelity prototyping — presents nearly all details of the product, including detailed interfaces and interactions between pages and elements. This allows you to fully test usability to find any potential issues before starting development.

8 prototyping methods and examples

Let’s check 8 common prototyping methods that you should use during your product design lifecycle:

1.Sketches — illustrate rough ideas with pen and paper

Sketching is often the first method used by designers to illustrate rough ideas at an early stage of the prototyping process.

2.Storyboards — evaluate user journeys for better UX

A website or app with high quality UX engages the user in a natural manner and telling stories is an integral part of that. To create better products from the outset, designers can create storyboards to visualize and evaluate their entire user flow.

3.Paper prototypes — present or test more app details on paper

Sketching is the fastest way to capture and record your ideas, simply allowing you to visualize the ideas in your mind. To iterate these sketches and turn them into something resembling an app, you need to make a paper prototype. In a paper prototype, you add details such as components, colors, elements and even some simple interactions. This way you can use your app and test out the concept on your own or with your team.

4.Role playing — explore scenarios of different roles

Role-playing is definitely the most fun method of prototyping. Think less drawing up specifics and more creating and going through broader written out use-cases.

5.Wireframes — create low-fidelity digital prototypes

Wireframes are often low-fi digital prototypes that showcase how your app will look, with important design elements and functionalities in place. This macro look will help designers create a solid foundation to your app or website on which to expand.

6.Mockups — create static digital prototypes with more details and visuals

Mockups are another type of prototypes that are more detailed than those mentioned above. These are predominantly medium-fidelity wireframes — designs with more elements and visual detail than a low-fi wireframe. These are often static, but look exactly like the final product in terms of design.

7.High-fidelity prototypes — test all possible details and interactions

High-fidelity prototypes are clickable and usable mockups with interactions and detailed visuals, elements and page details. You can directly interact with the app so you can use it just like you would for the final app, and because of this, hi-fi prototypes are incredibly useful in finding issues that you have missed previously because they are essentially the exact same product as you want the user to use.

8.Wizard of OZ — develop an app model to test functionalities ahead

The Wizard of Oz prototyping method is one that requires developers to create a simple, usable app model to test all functionalities ahead of the full design and development process, so as to find any issues to iterate on or see if there are any unnecessary features. While resource intensive, this method is useful for getting a real life app in your hands, and because it is relatively basic it helps you save time later on when developing the full app by narrowing down on what you need to actually develop, what can be saved for future updates and what isn’t needed.

How to choose the right prototyping methods?

All of these prototyping methods have been introduced in an order that increases in prototype detail, helping you gradually move on from one to another and choosing the methods that suit you and your team best. Sometimes it is useful to sketch out ideas, then create a storyboard and then go straight into medium or high-fidelity prototyping because you are happy you have worked out any issues.

App prototyping tools that you cannot miss out

There are many professional app prototyping tools that you can use to visualize and test your ideas:

  • Sketch — one of the most popular prototyping tools for Mac users. With many smart editing tools, color tools and many more design tools, Sketch helps you create lifelike app prototypes with ease. One of the drawbacks is it lacks functionalities to help you create realistic interactions.
  • Adobe XD — a simple design tool that helps you create website or app prototypes with simple interactions. With great integration with other Adobe products, XD is a good choice when you’ve purchased the Adobe suite.
  • Mockplus — an all-in-one prototyping tool that helps you create wireframes, mockups and prototypes in minutes, with a wide range of ready-made UI components, icons, templates and interactions. All your team members like designers, developers and product managers can work on the same page and collaborate better online.

App prototyping best practices

When creating app prototypes, you should also follow some tips:

Wrap Up

Prototyping is essential for designers and product teams. Visualizing ideas and testing them in the early stage of your design-development process is important for creating a fundamentally sound app or website, and helps keep costs down when designing the lifelike model you will have before development.

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