Incorporating some form of prototyping into a workflow is a critical and important step. Prototyping is a natural creative process. On the creative side, we have been producing, sketches, storyboards and “comps” long before the age of computers. Making a low-fidelity prototype is a natural way to envision both simple and complex solutions.
The fastest way to evaluate an idea is by visualizing the concept beyond words or as just a thought in our head. Things we think are great conceptually in our mind can come out pretty terrible when we put them down in a more concrete visual media.
We are visual people, and a simple prototype allows for designing a concept quickly. But it also allows us to improve upon our ideas quickly be iteration and revising.
Prototyping can help us to stop polishing turds. The idea of prototyping is not to refine a concept too far before we are committed to actual make something. Pen, paper, crayons, markers, styrofoam, tape, glue, balsa wood, are your tools for making, simulating, drawing, 3D printing or storyboarding. You can run through dozens of designs before you invest in extensive and expensive creative development time.
Want real feedback, simply describing your idea can be hard for others to grasp what you’re trying to achieve. In reality, two people can never have the same vision for something, unless they can see and react to something. How many times have our ideas been misinterpretated?
With a prototype, people can quickly and easily see your idea. This gives you a much better probability that not only will they respond more effectively, but can help gain approval to move onto the next stage. As creators, our prototypes are useful when we look to move into the execution stage, our final production people (developers, engineers, printers and manufactures) can use them to spot potential issues and make suggestions for alternatives.
Prototyping is also an excellent way of presenting ideas to clients, employees, users and stakeholders. You may also have to weight what style of prototyping that you present and when. Certainly, progressively advancing the level of the prototype can be valuable, when we can interactive and react to high-fidelity prototypes we should be at a stage where it makes the most sense from a project perspective.
There is nothing saying you can’t use prototyping or prototyping tools to perform user testing or perform focus group evaluations. One important thing to keep in mind is that low-fidelity prototypes won’t be able to capture all of the kinks yet to be worked out as a more finished design would have.
Prototypes encourage collaboration. When clients and teams can come together for previews, prototypes encourage feedback and early decision making. Showing something earlier, rather than a big reveal offers up feedback and a sharing of concerns before the design is finished. It can also be a way of managing scope and costs. Making decisions early in the process helps to keep projects in scope, but it also helps to make cases for additional investment.
Prototypes are also a great tool for concurrent engineering or working. Different members of the team can work on different parts of a project even if the design is not completely finished. It also gives you a visual guide to the finished product the is cheap, fast and relatively easy to create.