Testing your product ideas in prototype form is a critical part of the product life cycle. While surveys are powerful for learning about user preferences, testing interactive prototypes are needed to generate specific, insightful feedback about how your users understand and interact with your product.
Unfortunately, prototype creation can take a very long time, delaying testing and preventing quick iterations to your product. But there are ways to speed up the prototyping process. Similar to sourcing your target audience, the trick is to focus on what is required from your testers: what do they need to see and interact with, in order to provide the learnings you need?
Below are Dos and Don’ts for nurturing a rapid prototyping process:
Don’t test the one prototype to rule them all.
It’s very common for product teams to create large prototypes that achieve multiple goals:
- To present to major stakeholders, for approval on the design and user experience
- To show to developers, so they can better understand the build expectations
While these heavy prototypes may be a necessary part of your product process, they are not ideal for focused user testing. An unfocused prototype means that your testers can meander down any possible pathway in your product, and may never see the areas that you are actually need feedback on.
Instead, break up these large prototypes into shorter, smaller flows with fewer screens, so that each prototype is focused on an area you want to test. Smaller prototypes take less time to create, review and edit, and naturally shorten the production time.
To decide what to include in the prototype, ask yourself:
- What is the most important thing we want to learn from this test?
- What screens and / or interactions does the tester need to experience, in order to answer our questions?
- What does the user not need to see for this test?
Keep each prototype to 2 flows maximum, and decide which areas are necessary for interaction / clickability. To simplify the prototype, omit any interactions that are not related to the most important thing you want to learn.
Understand and expand the prototyping capabilities are of your product team.
According to our annual report, fewer than 10% of product managers have a design background, while more than 50% are responsible for creating prototypes. In addition, not all designers have the necessary skills to create fully interactive prototypes. Prototyping is very different from designing—you will need knowledge of various prototyping platforms (such as InVision, Axure, Principle, Keynote or Framer) to achieve specific interactions on desktop and mobile.
Prototyping certain interactions (such as allowing the tester to actually type into a field) may require further training to accurately simulate these experiences. Learn the advantages of each prototyping tool, so that you can choose the right tool to build the interactions you need to test.
Be aware of misaligned objectives from different stakeholders in the process.
While user research and testing have become popular buzzwords, allowing the time to execute short testing cycles (and iterate based on testing feedback) within a waterfall framework is very, very difficult. Many large companies (and agencies working with large companies) are required to get approvals before moving to the testing phase. And these approval processes can take weeks, if not months. In addition, most agencies create budgets with milestones and deliverable dates they need to hit, and may not factor in the time for multiple cycles of user research and testing, due to client-dictated timelines.
To address this issue, I encourage budget creators to allow for these multiple test cycles up front, as well as communicate to the client that it is important to include this time. Testing shorter prototypes (as mentioned above) will help alleviate the stress of creating prototypes for testing and client approval, as well as providing data points to back up all design decisions.
Access interactive prototype designers at Alpha.
At Alpha, we built a network of prototype designers that we train for rapid prototype creation. Within hours, they can take a plain-English description or napkin sketch, and turn it into an interactive prototype. (You can find examples of these prototypes here and here.)
Alpha’s prototyping support is integrated into our end-to-end platform, streamlining the experimentation process. The benefits of our network are:
- You don’t need to find or qualify designers with a specific skill set
- You don’t need to worry about ongoing training as prototyping tools evolve
- Our designers benefit from shared templates and best practices, enabling them to turnaround prototypes at 2-3x speed of independent designers
- Our designers have a range of skills and specialties, and are assigned to projects based on personal strengths
- Your designer or agency can use our designers as an additional resource to rapidly create variants for specific user flows, messaging choices, or design options
Overall, it is far more cost-effective to use our network for rapid prototyping support than it is for your designer or agency to allocate time to it.
Best practices for requesting design support through Alpha
If you’re an Alpha client, you can immediately access our network for prototyping support via the Alpha platform. Add instructions to what you need created, and our designers will provide a visual to match. Make sure that your instructions are focused on the visuals, messaging, and / or interactions the tester will need to see, and clarify what you are looking to learn from the test. Our designers will ensure the prototype tests the specific stimuli you are experimenting on.
Remember, our prototype support is not meant to design an entire product, but rather to prototype a specific area. For example, if you have a mobile app idea, they will prototype a few screens of the idea, to give the user the general idea. If you have an idea for a web app, they can mock up a landing page or onboarding flow.
Rapid experimentation is a competitive advantage. Designing interactive prototypes is a critical step in this process, and causes bottlenecks for many product teams. If you’re already using Alpha, I hope this has been a helpful explanation for how to optimize use of our prototype design support. If you’re not using Alpha, perhaps this will get you thinking about how to build rapid prototyping capability at your organization.