Rapid Prototyping for Outside the Box Web Design

Whenever we set out to create something, we tend to have a pretty specific idea of what that thing is going to look like, how it’s going to work and how it will be used. If you’re designing a chair for example, you can rely on some basic assumptions as to the general form it should take and how someone is going to sit in it. While this approach works well for established conventions like furniture, it doesn’t always work out as neatly in the digital realm. Intuitive as it may seem, rarely does our own, personal perspective do a very thorough job of considering how others will instinctively interact with such a product.

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Anytime you design something for others to use, your decisions along the way are likely based off of certain assumptions you make about how your users will interact with it. These assumptions aren’t bad or wrong but they can be based on limited information and in some cases, personal bias. The natural tendency is to think about how a product will be used based primarily on the way you, yourself would use it. It’s not wrong, it’s just not necessarily right for everyone.

What’s missing here is the user. Who else can better speak to how they will interact than the very one doing the interacting? This idea isn’t new. We as designers have always sought feedback on how to improve and optimize what we create and often go to great lengths to do just that. It’s just that before, we weren’t seeking that feedback until after we’d finished building. Conceive, analyze, design, construct, test, maintain – this was the way things were done for a long, looooooong time.

Anyone can see that this approach is slow, frustrating, and expensive. Valuable time and money are spent in the laborious pursuit of incrementally improving upon completed products that are difficult to evolve. If the key to improving on the conventional wisdom is faster access to feedback, how then can one tap into those powerful insights earlier in the process? The answer is prototyping and it’s changing the way designers and developers alike approach building digital products.

The better way.

Prototyping allows new features and elements to be quickly validated or abandoned by creating simulated versions that can be put in front of users before they are completely developed. This iterative process ultimately shortens the feedback loop, allowing products to evolve faster and be more refined.

Prototyping allows you to test the assumptions you make about your users by putting low fidelity versions of your product in front of those very users to observe their behavior and elicit feedback. The prevailing wisdom is to do so early and often, building prototypes that merely resemble what you ultimately hope to release and discovering how users actually interact with it. What results is a continual loop of design, user testing and refining until something very near perfection is reached.

In rapid prototyping services this process is performed quickly with little concern for the level of detail involved. The faster an idea can be tested and either proven or disproven, the faster the ideal version will be revealed. Anything from simple HTML mock-ups to downright prehistoric paper models will suffice as long as it is testable. At 3epd.com, we use programs like InVision and UXPin to create fully interactive, high fidelity prototypes that give us early insight into how users are interacting with our sites and apps.

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