What is prototyping in UX?

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By Lucian Dinu
January 10, 2022

Prototyping is an essential part of the UX design process. It is one of the main tools in the UX designer's arsenal. It saves time and money in the long run, and it allows everyone to get on the same page.

Prototyping helps you create an interactive version of an idea or a final product, which is a good way to show everyone involved how it will work.

The Importance of Prototyping

It is important that you create a prototype as early as possible in your design process. It helps you to identify potential issues long before a product or idea goes into production. 

Prototyping is also important because it can ensure that the design can be used for the needs of the user. It is worth noting here that the sooner you start testing and validating your ideas, the better.

When to use a prototype

As I said before, when you try to build something, you often want to keep an eye on how the project is going. You might want to take a look at the design, or maybe the code. Prototyping is a way for you to see your project without having to fully develop it. It is a way for you to get a feel for how everything will work, and it allows you to make quick changes as you go.

So, here are some situations when prototypes come in handy, such as:

  • Test or validate assumptions:

    • When you need to know whether users can use the product or if it is too hard to use

    • If the solution is right for your users

  • Test or validate ideas:

    • If the way their content is laid out makes sense,

    • When you want to test if users prefer one layout over another

    • If the content makes sense in a specific context as it was originally intended

  • In general, when you are testing ideas and get feedback, prototypes help so much.

How to create a prototype

An excellent way to create a prototype is to start by sketching out the idea on paper, then slowly move to dedicated prototyping tools.

When designing a product, you have to go through multiple steps to get the final product. This can be time-consuming and tedious. However, there is another option. You can create a prototype. A prototype is essentially a blueprint of the product that you want to create. It helps you deal with different issues before the product is ready for production. You can even use a prototype as a sample to submit to investors.

There are three main types of prototypes (while usually in the UX community, you will encounter only 2 types: low, high fidelity prototypes, I think the high fidelity type is not clearly defined, and it has a wide range), that you can create, and they each have their own advantages and disadvantages. The first type is the low fidelity prototypes that can be rough sketches or paper based. This is the easiest type to create, but the disadvantage is that it can only be used for demonstration and some initial testing. The second type is the medium fidelity prototypes (and they come in a digital form). They usually include some aspects of the final design, but in terms of interactivity they are minimal. The last type is the high fidelity prototypes. They are similar to the medium type, but more rich in terms of interactivity. The advantage of this type is that it can be used to test and demonstrate the design and functionality. While this is the most complex to create, it has many benefits, being closer to a real simulation of the product, allowing UX designers to capture real user feedback through user testing.

User testing can be done with any of these types, but the medium fidelity is generally recommended due to being relatively less time-consuming versus its usefulness in communicating.

A list of prototyping tools

These days there are a lot of prototyping tools for UX designers, and it can be quite challenging to choose a tool that's the best fit for you.

Here is a list of tools I've used and have found to be useful:

Adobe XD - A vector-based tool for web and mobile apps, with support for wireframing and simple interactive click-through prototypes.

Figma - Allows multiple people to work on or view a design or prototype at the same time, letting you collaborate in real-time.

Axure - A powerful prototyping software with a lot of history. It has been around for many years and is available for Windows and Mac. Originally, Axure was just an HTML wireframe maker. But over the last decade, it's grown to be a complete solution.

Justinmind - Design, iterate, and share your web or mobile app ideas faster using this all-in-one prototyping tool.

Flinto - This Mac app is used by designers around the world to create interactive and animated prototypes of their app designs.

Conclusion

Prototyping is an important step in the design process and is essential in successful UX projects. But we have to keep in mind the prototyping it's also a very time-consuming and expensive exercise that sometimes might not be worthwhile. In general, it is recommended to use medium fidelity prototypes because they are less time-consuming and more useful in communicating the idea, allowing rapid iteration.

So, in the end, creating prototypes can save you time and frustration when creating a product, and it can ensure that the design or solution can be used, and it fits the needs of the user.