Let’s say you are a small business/startup owner with a great idea for a web or mobile application. You have a few lines written about it and some sketches too. You’re looking forward to getting it all built, so you get in touch with software development companies for estimates.
Except, when you get there, you notice that they’re asking all sorts of very detailed questions. About your product’s navigation, about what goes on a certain page or another, about what happens in certain scenarios while your site is used. You start answering, but all these details can easily become overwhelming. The whole process feels like deciding your child's whole future before they’re even born. Does your choice for question 56 even make sense in light of your answer for question 12? You understand why they need to know the answers, but some questions cannot be answered firmly. So you end up with multiple estimates, covering all the “maybe”-s. Depending on the budget you have, you will have to go ahead and build one of these options, culling features and making compromises as you go. But how do you determine what is essential and what can be cut?
My recommendation: take one step back. Don’t take your project ideas and sketches straight to the development team. Talk to a User Experience consultant or consulting team instead - or better yet, ask the development team if they have a UX consultant or department on board. You’ll usually find them under UX Designer/Architect, Information Architect, Interaction Designer, Usability Analyst or any variation of these. They shouldn’t be confused with User Interface Designers and Developers - these people have different skill sets and are in charge of the final look and feel & working code of the product.
The usability professionals I’m referring to here have the role of working out the details of an application from an information architecture and interaction standpoint. They work directly with you and rely heavily on data from and about your prospective users. Ideally, they also work in close collaboration with technical and visual teams as well to ensure that what they build is technically and visually feasible. They will take your ideas and data and turn them into a very tangible yet cost-effective product: a rapid prototype.
What is a rapid prototype?
Some people call it mockup, some call it wireframe, some call it interactive wireframe - there are core differences, but let’s not get into the semantics. It’s a model of your application in some form of clickable, explorable format built based on all the available data regarding your users, your competitors and your preferences.
A rapid prototype is an excellent tool overall, serving several key purposes.
First, it makes you think of the nitty-gritty details of your application as well as the core information architecture (the way the data is organised). Second, it models interaction - it’s the only thing, other than actually building the product, that shows you exactly what your end users will be experiencing while using your website or application. What happens when I load the page, what happens after I log in, what happens when I try to create an account?
Make your mistakes early with your prototype, not with code
Because no matter how great the idea, if you don’t get these details right, your users will not be happy. What if something doesn’t pan out? What if the functionality you had in mind doesn’t quite feel right? You have the luxury of changing the prototype rather than the hassle of having to change the working product. Looking at the prototype you will be able to discover and fix these issues well before they get to development. Making changes to a prototype costs 10 times less than making changes to working code. And, of course, once the prototype is ready - you can show it to developers, shop around for solutions and get far more accurate estimates on developing a feature or another.
Having this easy-to-produce model of the product helps communicate exactly what you want, much more so than any sketch or description would. As long as you choose the right person or team for the job, prototyping can save you a lot of money and time in the long run.
You can learn more about reInteractive UX on our services page.
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