Before every major new application is built reinteractive recommends getting prototypes built before development starts as we want to make sure what we build will be wanted by the people using the application. A prototype is a clickable wireframe that allows the user to experience the interactions of an application. Essentiality the user can walk through the application and experience the work flow without the input making any difference to the interaction. An example is here.
We have found that every project that starts with a prototype has very good communication throughout the project as everyone can point to the prototype to discuss functionality. Good communication is the number one factor that leads to success in a software project. To put it another way building a prototype before a project helps a project be delivered on time and on budget as time is not wasted building features that are not wanted. reinteractive prototypes cost around one tenth of the price of development and are very easy to change. Changing an application once actual development has started can be both time consuming and costly.
There have been several projects recently that have changed dramatically during the course of a User Experience consultant’s involvement.
One company was trying to pioneer a new rating system for houses. The application was essentially a long set of questions. The initial questionnaire to produce the rating was quite technical and many users found it difficult to answer the questions. Once our User Experience consultant had finished many of the wordy descriptions were hidden and answers to the questions became “choose a picture” rather than enter a description. It is a common problem that experts design a system which is too advanced for the average user.
Another company was building a news feed application and originally thought they would make suggestions to users on what content they should watch. After users interacted with the prototype the owners realised that users would get suggestions of news that they did not care about. The initial system was abandoned and replaced with a system that shows all the news and allows users to deselect news they don’t want to see. Your users have to touch your idea before you know if they will like it.
Another company was trying to build a hiring portal which they had never done before. They built up a list of things they needed and we started to implement their ideas in the prototype. Only when the prototype was in front of them and working that they realised that they had missed out a lot of critical functionality that would have hamstrung the application. Unless you have pictures and a workflow you will probably miss some key functionality. It is very rare to find people who can have an entire application in their heads. This goes for developers as well. Always get everything you know about the application down on paper and preferably in a prototype. A long list of features is generally not useful as it is too ambiguous and it is hard to conceptualise the interactivity inherent in a modern application.
From the examples above I hope you have learnt a little about the power of prototypes and a User Experience consultant. It is important to understand your audience truly without the bias of your own understanding. It is important for users to interact with your ideas through a prototype so you know they will like the end product. It is very hard to know every piece of functionality and it’s impact without drawing it all down on paper or better yet a clickable prototype.