Mobile apps are complex products that require our full attention during the development process, and even before it. You may wonder why a certain app looks and feels the way it is – who designed the functionality, who decided to place the button in the top right corner, or why are there 4 steps from login to purchase. Most of these questions should be answered at the beginning – in the phase of app prototyping. Prototyping is one of the most important steps that connect the dots between the problem an app needs to solve and the best ways it can be solved. All phases during app development, the design, development, testing, and deployment phase should rely on decisions made in the prototyping stage.
In this article, we will cover everything we know about app prototyping, and why it should no longer be a choice, but is a necessity.
Read this if you have an app idea or want to improve your development life cycle.
What is an App prototype?
A prototype is a simulation of the app’s functionalities and user interface, presented in a set of mockups or wireframes in order to showcase the ways users will interact with the app.
It helps team members, investors, and clients to be on the same page while understanding the app. Moreover, it gives everyone involved in the project the opportunity to discuss, or propose improvements sooner.
The team usually includes a UX designer, developers, and a product owner working on prototyping together. In this stage, the app is presented visually in the form of sketches or digitally, with clickable elements, for the sake of getting better or more detailed feedback from stakeholders. It contains no working code in the background because its purpose is to save time and money identifying bad usabilities or dysfunctional elements before the design and development phase start.
What types of prototypes are there?
Prototypes do not necessarily look like a final product. Depending on the time and budget, prototypes may be created with higher or lower amounts of content, interactivity, and visual details. Based on those criteria, there are low fidelity and high fidelity prototypes.
Low fidelity prototypes (lo-fi)
Low fidelity prototypes are used to explain the basic functionalities of the app, in the shortest possible time. Using such simple tools, the product team saves loads of money and time, while still being able to present core ideas, UI elements, shapes. Besides pen and paper, printed screens from Sketchsheets gives a better perspective on how your designs look on different screens. To make a good prototype on paper, a team needs to do make some steps before the start:
- Create a list of features app will have
- Create personas, to try to map the customer journey
- Define one main problem the app needs to solve, to stay focused on what matters
Another way to create low-fidelity prototypes is wireframing. It can contain clickable elements but not necessarily, the idea is to digitize app screens and provide a better look and feel of the app. In fact, wireframes are the second step in prototyping. Sometimes, the product team starts from there, but very often, the paper is the very first step many are not ready to give up yet. Some of the most popular tools to create wireframes are Balsamic or Adobe XD+, InVision or POP.
High fidelity prototypes (hi-fi)
High fidelity prototypes consist of visually more accurate designs, used to get better feedback from users, clients, or investors. This type of prototyping feels so realistic that end users will hardly distinguish between the real mobile app. The elements are clickable, animations, designs and visual identity are set up exactly as for the final product would look like, so users can go back and forth and play with features without forcing imagination on “what is this button supposed to do?”.
The end result of hi-fi prototypes is usually high-quality feedback about every aspect presented over there. The cons of this approach are higher costs and longer development, but if the goal is to get better feedback for the lowest price possible, then hi-fi prototyping seems to be the optimum solution.
What steps you need to take to make an app prototype
The good news is that you do not have to be a designer to do prototyping. Once you define the goal and audience, you are ready to draw. Here are some helpful tools that you can use to get great results.
The process of creating can take a few days or months. It depends on the complexity of the app, but try not to spend too much time in this phase. The point is to get ideas validated as quickly as possible, not to make a perfect design that should be done in some of the later stages.
“Design is done when you have validated a prototype as a suitable solution, Engineering has agreed to the viability of the solution, and you’ve defined the look and feel of the solution that all stakeholders have agreed to.”
“The Product Book” – Josh Anon & Carlos González De Villaumbrosia
If you are interested in learning more about prototyping and a product life cycle, we recommend reading books “The Product Book” and “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”. It should give you more information about the importance of early validation from many aspects, but also should help improve the conversation within the team during the development process.
Building a prototype is a simple but interesting process that gives you the opportunity to remove unnecessary frustration from your work. Many great products failed just because they were not presented with realistic deadlines and technologies at the beginning.
Even simple prototyping will help you increase your reputation, as your clients will appreciate the transparency and open communication throughout the process. If you intend to pitch an idea to investors, it will increase chances to get the necessary investment because it is easier to understand a tangible idea. Moreover, you will be perceived as a professional who has clear goals and knows how to achieve it. If you need help with this stage, get in touch with our team. We will build an interactive prototype for you based on the delivered app requirements.