The hands down best thing to do before building your next software project is to invest in a set of rapid prototypes. What do I mean by a prototype? Here's an example: http://ux.reinteractive.net/C3F2ZS/#p=introduction
For those of you who are too scared to click on the link I salute you for your security paranoia and offer the following description: A prototype is an interactive, clickable schematic structure of your final product and represents the experience the users will have with your application.
So now you know what a prototype is, why spend hard earned cash on a prototype?
It saves a bucket load of cash in the future
Do you remember when you were arguing with your last developer about what happens when you click the orange button? So many times we have seen projects launched that just don't work. Why? Communication. When a business owner tells a developer to build a square, the developer understands to build a triangle and will probably produce a circle because that is the best fit for the application. This is where a prototype becomes so important. If you can point to a square that the developer can see, the developer will make a square.
Stakeholders can understand your idea
Often you will need board sign off or you will need to test your idea in your market. Building an application is generally ten times more expensive than building the rapid prototype. Why would you build an application if you weren't absolutely sure the average user could figure out how to use your application? Not even savvy board members will understand what you are talking about until you let them click through the application for themselves.
The market is constantly changing
Why do you think Atlassian employs 50 User Experience designers and researchers? Every process should be refined, every feature should be refined until the user has a seamless experience and your application is intuitive to use. Mitchell Harper from Big Commerce said "Markets change and evolve just like technology does, so your customers from two years ago may not look like who your customers are today". One client of reinteractive was Flood.io. Flood.io engaged our User Experience consultant which saved months of wondering what to do and condensed it into three weeks. A year and half after flood.io’s original launch, the user experience design engagement lead to a significant change in the flow of the home page which created a huge increase in conversions of visitors into clients.
To derisk your application you should invest in building a rapid prototype first so that your developers will build exactly the product you image. Making sure you stakeholders back your idea and making sure the idea resonates with the end users will also remove risk from the software project. Lastly don't forget to continually revisit and fine-tune your product’s user experience to keep your application engaging and relevant to your target audience.
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