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Using Rapid Prototyping to Build Your Digital Product

Using Rapid Prototyping to Build Your Digital Product

Photo by Maico Amorim

Rapid prototyping can make the difference between creating a successful product or ending up in an endless tunnel of dreams. Creating a prototype will force you to think about the details of your product and how users will use it in the end. A ready to use prototype will allow you to use it and show it to people and get their valuable feedback.

Before you start using the rapid prototyping approach you have to understand what the use will be and how it will help you get to get to the final product. A well created and thought out prototype can help you to increase the amount of effective communication due to the fact that you have something to show your customers or stakeholders. Don’t get lost within endless explanations of how the product will work and or look. As mentioned before, it also decreases the development time due to the number of iterations and releases. These costly mistakes can happen when doing the opposite. The product lifetime of a prototype is most likely extended because we are adding features which are needed by customers and remove unnecessary ones.

This blog post will help you to get started with rapid prototyping and introduce you the practice of using rapid prototyping and useful tools.

The simplest explanation of the steps is the following:

  1. Requirements Analysis
    Analyze, define and clarify the requirements and constraints you have when creating the prototype. This is where you define what you want to achieve with your prototype and set your expectations and goals.
  2. Prototype
    Convert your requirements and descriptions of the product into (digital) mockups or another useful form of prototype depending on the product.
  3. Review
    Use the prototype you created with users and get their feedback in the first round, in the common rounds you will see if you have met their expectations and needs.
  4. Refine
    Using the feedback you got during step 2 you will refine the requirements and needs for features of your prototype.

Remember to start small with your prototype with the least valuable prototype and add on from there before spending too much time for useless features. An important, often used rule, is that you should focus on the 20% of the functionality that will be used 80% of the time and leave the rest for the final product.

For example, if you start building a prototype of a website you would generally start building the homepage and landing pages as a first prototype before drilling down further into more specific pages. In case of an online shop, the broader pages would be the horizontal prototype while drilling down into specific pages for an online shop would be the vertical prototype.

Another differentiation besides the horizontal and vertical prototype exists in the fidelity of a prototype. Fidelity here means how close a prototype is to the final solution. The fidelity level is separate in 3 aspects: visual, functional and content fidelity. Their names are basically speaking for themselves:

  • Visual Fidelity
    Is about the look and feel of a prototype, or from sketched to a fully styled prototype. Don´t go all the way to the perfect designed prototype in the first iteration as you want your users to focus on functionality rather than visual design.
  • Functional Fidelity
    This means if a prototype is responding to user input or if it’s something static where they can just see how it will look and interact with users. Here it´s normally not distracting for the users so adding interactivity will not harm as much as design.
  • Content Fidelity
    This is one of the most overlooked things in the development of a prototype, dummy text like “lorem ipsum” can often give you wrong feedback as users may focus on this too much.

Varying in all these 3 levels will let you chose the right level of fidelity to start with; this always depends on the goal and expectations as well as the product itself. The best way is to start with a low fidelity prototype in the beginning. After the first iteration set the requirements on proper fidelity levels depending on the users feedback.

When using the right fidelity level in every future iteration keep in mind that it really depends on your product. Some products don´t need a high level of content fidelity, others might not need a high visual fidelity, this might happen when it is more important to find out about functionality rather than visual aspects of a products.

Tools you can use to start rapid prototyping your next product can be Keynote for Mac which only costs around $20, so it lets you start really easily. This is a good way to make a visual prototype and is often used in the industry and there are even PowerPoint plugins which will bring you nearly the same functionality on your Windows machine. Otherwise, you can also create HTML mockups and any other programmable prototypes you can think of depending on your needs.

Build Small. Learn Fast. Iterate Often.

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