The Power of Prototyping

I have been a professional designer for about the past fifteen years, focusing on designing for the web and print. I have worked at various Atlanta based design agencies throughout the 2000’s. Around the early 2010’s I moved on to a lead design position at an Atlanta based Financial Technology firm. Recently I was tasked with a re-design of our in-house software applications. This called for a ground up redesign.

A prototype can answer a lot of questions before they even arise.

I got to work right away. I worked directly with the Product and Development teams, Leadership, and met with high level clients to discover user needs and pains. Wireframes, user scenarios, and business cases were created. I did some design, discovery, and research on my end and put together multiple visual directions for leadership and stakeholders to review. One of the designs was eventually signed off on and I spent the next few weeks living in Sketch. I designed and exported every individual screen and asset for the app.

All along the way these designs were submitted to leadership. I received sign off and approval. The natural next step was to deliver these pixel perfect designs to the software engineers in order to begin development.

These beautiful designs were delivered without a prototype. What exactly is a prototype? According to Jeffrey Cao, “The most basic definition of prototype is, ‘A simulation or sample version of a final product, which is used for testing prior to launch.’ The goal of a prototype is to test products (and product ideas) before sinking lots of time and money into the final product.” Jeffrey Cao, UXPin, What Is a Prototype: A Guide to Functional UX (follow Jeffrey on Twitter)

The development process began. Over the next few weeks I would routinely review the in progress product and would find that it did not match my “vision.” The user flow from one screen to the next was not quite right. While a lot of this was technically correct it was not as intended. I tried to point out every small detail that wasn’t quite right however in hindsight I realize more time was wasted during this process by not turning this over with a prototype.

My biggest takeaway from Jeffrey’s definition of a prototype is “The goal of a prototype is to test products (and product ideas) before sinking lots of time and money into the final product.” We were learning this the hard way by spending lots of hours of design and development going back and forth trying to correct inconsistencies that should not have existed to begin with.

During this build another project came up. I went back to Sketch and started hammering out pixels. However this time around I realized a prototype was needed. After receiving sign off on the visual design I began work on the prototype. The prototype was presented to leadership, was approved, and was delivered to the development team. Ultimately, the end product result was a night and day difference from the previous build. Suffice it say the end result app was spot on and I was blown away at the results.

A prototype can answer a lot of questions before they even arise. A prototype allows for designers to correct or modify issues such as user flow and accessibility before any coding even begins. A prototype allows you to have everyone, from design, to product, to stakeholders, on the same page before you start investing money in development. This will save time, money, and headache down the line.