By: Marc Mastrella
Publish Date: Thursday 3/5/2020
Why should prototypes be a part of your development process?
Starting a web or mobile app development project can be a nerve-wracking process. You may be concerned that you don't have all of the app specifications laid out or that all of the stakeholders within your organization may not be on the same page as far as which features are most important. What if you spend all of your budget on development, only to find the finished product doesn't contain some of the key functionality you were expecting? Good news - there is actually a way to see a finished-looking product before your development team starts coding your app.
This is precisely what prototyping can do for your business. “But what exactly is prototyping?” we hear you asking. Read on to learn more about this crucial step in the app development process and how it can help ensure success of your project and reduce risk.
What Is Prototyping?
Prototyping is the step in the app development process where interactive, branded web or mobile screens are created. Along with screens, an associated workflow is established based on input you've provided the dev team during "discovery" sessions. It's an iterative process that will provide you and your key stakeholders a visual of what the development team is planning to build. This gives you a chance to iron out any misunderstandings before the team begins working on the code in earnest.
Prototyping is largely done as a graphic design project, though it will require close collaboration with the coding team, who will have to turn this prototype into a working product. It will start with rough sketches of how the team envisions the app will look, feel, and function based on the information they've heard. From there, the designers can flesh those ideas out into a full working prototype that your internal group can run through and have refined by providing feedback.
One of the biggest reasons to use a prototype is to prevent miscommunication between client and developer. Nothing is more frustrating than receiving a finished product that you know the dev team has worked hard on (and that you've paid for), only to realize that what they've built isn't really what you wanted. Needless to say, early communication can prevent that frustration for you and your development team.
Even when you make the smart decision to hire a development team because of their greater level of expertise, you need to be aware that there’s bound to be a language barrier of some kind. Each business has their own operational language that you use internally to run your business. The dev team will need to interpret this business-specific language and, likewise, it is highly possible that your own technical knowledge is limited. Because of this, it's easy to see how easily important factors can be misinterpreted by either side. Here's a simple example - the dev team may have heard that you want a news feed built into your app when, what you actually meant to convey was that you need an article archiving mechanism. Roughing out the prototype before production begins can certainly help iron out these miscommunications before coding starts.
Define the Requirements
Roughing out a prototype is also instrumental in helping the development team better understand the requirements of a project. Maybe when you first hire the team for you project, they think the coding requirements are going to mean they have to dedicate six people to finish the project on time. But once they get into more in-depth discussions with you, they may discover that only three people will be needed to get the work done.
Knowing what the technical requirements will be from the start can help ensure that the budget is realistic and there will be no unwanted surprises. You won’t run out of budget or experience significant delays because the team underestimated how complex the work would be. Thinking through the details during the prototyping phase will ensure that everyone is able to work efficiently and effectively.
Managing client expectations is one of the most important parts of app development for a software development team. Clients who haven’t been through the design process before may not be able to visualize what something will look like or articulate what they’re looking for in a design. Having a development team that adheres to an up-front prototyping process prior to development will enable them to solidify your expectations and those of your key stakeholders.
With a prototype, the theoretical becomes real, and you will see what the app will really look like on the ground. We frequently find that clients may not know until they see it that they don’t want a certain feature included or that they have strong feelings about how branding is incorporated. Many times, clients internally have differing opinions or priorities for features. Receiving a prototype to explore, review and discuss will help make sure everyone’s on the same page in terms of app design from the start.
Stay in Budget
Another crucial part of meeting client expectations for a development team is staying within budget. If they realize halfway through a project that they have to start over on coding because of miscommunications, it’s going to be a difficult situation trying to determine where the communication fell short and who is responsible for the unforeseen incremental expense. Prototyping can save both parties from this unwanted experience.
It probably goes without saying that prototyping is much less labor-intensive than building out a full app, so, if they've totally missed the boat in the first round (which is not common), starting from scratch on the prototype, is really not a big deal. If, however, actual coding has to be redone or reworked to get the product you were expecting, all parties will be at risk of project delays and unforeseen expenses.
How to Manage Prototyping
The first step to prototyping is a discovery meeting between the clients and developers. Talk about the problem(s) you're hoping this app will solve and get a list of features you want the app to have. Discuss your top three or four features that you think are the most important; this is what they will use to build the prototype.
The team will likely start your prototype by sketching out rough layouts of how the primary screens in the app should look and feel. Next, they'll turn those sketches into wireframes, and then transform those wireframes into your prototype. A designer will make the wireframes look and feel just like a real app would, and then connect those designs together and drop in fake information to make the app feel real.
Can You Get Prototyping as a Standalone Phase?
Some companies offer prototyping as a standalone phase in their app development schedule. This is a great way to get started on a project before committing to a full development budget. You'll be able to establish a working relationship with your development team of choice and make a determination on whether they are the right partner to continue on with for the development phase.
For simpler jobs or more experienced clients, doing some rough sketches may be plenty to make sure everyone is on the same page. But with more advanced projects and clients who are going through the design process for the first time, it’s a good idea to work up a full prototype for everyone to review.
Learn More About Prototyping
I can say with confidence that engaging in a prototyping agreement with a development firm as a first phase in your app development project will always pay for itself in the long run.The developers will gain a clear understanding of what you are looking for and will be able to provide consultative recommendations for meeting your goals. They'll be able to provide you with a realistic budget based on well understood features and criteria and your internal stakeholders will have a visual representation of what they can expect from their app so that there are no unwanted surprises.
So, with all that said, the true answer to the question, “What is prototyping?” is that it's “Your secret to success.”
If you’d like to get help with your app design process, check out the rest of our site at Envative. We provide smarter software solutions for web, mobile, and IoT. Contact us today to learn how we can help you work smarter and grow your bottom line.