You can always tell when a smartphone user is having, shall we say, a “technical challenge” with an app on their trusty device. Rather than sitting contentedly with a pair of white ear buds, rocking out to the latest tunes; or happily swiping, tapping and giggling at their on-screen interactions; instead, you’ll find the disgruntled device owner furiously mashing the home button, power switch (or both) and muttering a string of four-letter words occasionally punctuated by the name of the company that’s inflicting the grief.
An inconsistent app experience can not only be frustrating for the consumer – who averages 33 such mini-experiences on their devices – but can be devastating for a company that relies upon a positive experience to enhance their bottom line. One survey found that of the app power users – those who visit an app 10 or more times a month – only 17 percent came back to the app three months later.
For those whose lifeblood is to ensure the ongoing detente between device and enterprise, it’s absolutely Job One to determine whether the end user will ultimately find it useful and comfortable. In the app development universe, the way to answer this challenge is to create a “quick prototype” – an awesome way to validate a hypothesis by getting real, actual consumer feedback that can turn an App Zero into a Hero.
Ready to become a prototyping pro? Follow these 10 tips to ensure your model app is on the right track:
- Define what you want to validate. A quick prototype can serve myriad purposes: To show and test a feature, to try out a layout, to gauge usability, or to understand how visual design will impact a user’s journey or a specific flow. That’s why it’s important to identify the most critical prototyping attributes, and to validate those as a primary means of ensuring acceptability with users or stakeholders.
- Detail level is not important at this stage, unless that’s the thing you want to focus on. For instance, if you want to test a new flow, a wireframe-level design should be enough. It’s most important that this spartan test app should focus on the attributes which examine user usability, so they won’t get distracted by graphics.
- Make it lean. Bear in mind that one of the foundations for quick prototyping is to be part of an agile methodology. This means that it will be constantly evolving and changing, so it’s always a good idea to build today’s prototype with the understanding that tomorrow’s will be even better.
- Can’t decide between two approaches? Do both! If there are two (or three at most) different approaches for resolving a single challenge, don’t hesitate to build a different prototype of each one. An A/B (or A/B/C) test can be quite valuable in determining which execution delivers a more complete experience.
- Have a design template file with common mobile components, ready to deploy in this (and future) prototypes. By doing so, you’ll be an efficient prototype – especially if the team is not working on the actual UI buildout in this stage.
- Use the design tools best suited for the job. Fortunately, there are a lot of design tools you can use, depending on your context: From hand drawn sketches, component stencils, and whiteboards; to specialized software like Sketch, Photoshop, or Adobe XD.
- Do the same with prototyping tools. If we as designers have so many options for design tools, the prototyping tools we use should, too, be selected with our outcomes in mind. You did some hand drawings with your client and want to demonstrate how they may function? You can use POP App. You will conduct a user test? InVision or Marvel App represent good choices. You want a deeper level of motion an interaction? Maybe you should use Pixate.
- Show your prototypes on a device. If you’re designing a mobile product, your prototype will look much better on the form factor for which you are designing. Of course, there are tools that “emulate” a mobile experience on a desktop browser, but some interactions may not look and feel the same.
- Be collaborative! As we stated before, quick prototyping is a fundamental part of an agile process, and the nature of agile process is collaboration. Other team members and stakeholders can be a source of great feedback, with the side benefit of offering them a sense of ownership of the final product.
- And finally, always be clear. You may have a clear definition of what you want to show on your prototype, but don’t assume that the other people involved will have that same innate understanding. You need to communicate the evaluation protocol in a way that resonates with the testers. Otherwise, they may give you feedback about things that you don’t need to know at this time, and that may create confusion.
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