Prototyping makes you tell the right story

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Prototyping in the early phase of a project is the ideal way to see if (and how) a concept will work. But often enough it’s not being done because design teams fear it will cost them all of their available hours. I think this is a big misconception, since there are many different ways you can prototype… And even the fastest way, sketching, is more valuable then doing no prototype at all.

It makes you tell stories

There are many reasons why you should start prototyping… but for now I want to focus on just a couple of reasons. The first being: it makes you tell stories. When you force yourself to make a lo-fi prototype (e.g. sketching) you suddenly have to go through the scenarios/use cases. You have to design the interface and in your head interact with it. It’s not just wireframes in Visio anymore, but it comes alive. And this forces you as a designer to start telling the story of the interface. See it as a person, talking to the user… And like a storyteller you should define the character of the product. Is it agressive? Your friend? Your tutor or advisor? Will it talk to you as a restless child or be like Buddha himself? And what does it tell you? When? How?

The exercise of making a prototype brings this alive. It forces you to imagine how somebody will play around with it. I acknowledge that you should also do this when drawing wireframes, but there you’ll easily enough lose yourself in the details. It’s also a process where you approach each screen as an individual, trying to get the balance on the screen right. Maybe that’s not the correct way, but it is how it works. While making a prototype and playing around with it makes you feel close to the user.

It let’s you explain your concept

Personally I’m not always a big fan of wireframes. When I create them I already know that they will limit me in some way. Clients have a problem looking through the wires and seeing the interactive concept… And I have to split up an interactive concept in different pages and screens, while any interactive part can only be described in text. A prototype helps me explain what I have in mind (even to myself). It’s an easy way to start bringing the concept alive and seeing how it interacts with people. I can make sounds, move things around, let things disappear… everything that I need to bring it alive. And before I dive into the details I can easily change stuff. While others (and me) play around with the prototype, it evolves. Making the prototype isn’t a one-step proces. The creation and adaptation of it is the actual development of the concept.

So let’s start prototyping. And as a proof that anybody can prototype and bring an idea to live… Look at this video:

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

2 comments on this article

  1. Anonymous for now on

    When it comes to designing an interactive device or application, if one cannot build a prototype that represents the basic functionality or a device or program, they’ve most likely stretched their imagination too far.

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