For teams operating on a small budget or with a limited runway, the rapid UI prototyping design process may seem like a cure-all. It enables teams to focus on wide-scale iteration and feedback gathering to effectively solve a problem before committing to create and deliver designs with higher levels of fidelity. Run right, the process is true to its name — helping designers solve problems faster. It removes long wait times between formal design reviews and replaces them with feedback sessions where the artifacts under critique may be drawn in a notebook or on a whiteboard.
Rapid UI Prototyping: How It Works
Rapid UI prototyping seeks to solve problems using a less wasteful process.
1. Participants engaging in the rapid prototyping effort begin with an action statement identifying the problem, “I want __________ to do __________.”
2. Next, plan the path the user will follow to complete the task. This can be completed mentally, on paper or with a formal flowchart.
3. After understanding the stages of the interaction, the team sketches intentionally different concepts to present for feedback. These concepts can be realized on paper or through a rapid prototyping tool like Invision. By encouraging the exploration of diverse methods of interaction, the team can discover/select the approach that fits the user and the situation best.
4. The UX designer(s) present the concept to the group for feedback. All designs are discussed before finesse (including color, shadows and shading) are added.
Some UX designers will argue that rapid prototyping can be leveraged at any project stage or with any team size. (And they’re right, it can!) Problem-solving takes place during all phases of a project, both large and small, and prototyping is a quick way to test solutions to these problems. But, rapid prototyping is more successful in some instances than others.
Variables Impacting the Success of Rapid Prototyping
Consider the size and complexity of your project before implementing the rapid prototyping process. Rapid prototyping works well to maintain velocity and increase exploration on small projects with very focused goals, intentions and use cases. Small groups solving a concentrated problem can quickly create, present and vet as many as 10 different iterations on the same interaction flow.
Rapid prototyping becomes more challenging to run effectively on more complex projects with larger teams. Suddenly, there are larger interaction flows to test against and more stakeholders who must weigh in. Rather than rapid, the prototyping process slows and begins to resemble more traditional design reviews. Keep your team small to achieve the maximum benefits from the rapid prototyping process. If limiting stakeholders is difficult due to the nature or breadth of your project, make sure that you have the proper stakeholders and decision makers included during meetings so decisions can be made quickly.
What often stands between a project team and its ability to begin product development? Stakeholder approval. The artifacts born from the rapid prototyping process are often the extra piece stakeholders need to visualize and truly understand the problem being presented by the project team.
After putting pen to paper, UX designers often turn to rapid prototyping tools like Invision to bring their ideas to life. Need to convince a stakeholder with limited UX or software development experience? Implementing and presenting a prototype can provide the extra “push” needed to sell an idea.
Rapid prototyping is an easier process to run in some companies compared to others. The process is defined by intensive collaboration and quick turnaround times for feedback to live up to the standard set by the process’ name.
Companies accustomed to a rigorously-structured design, review and feedback process may struggle adopting the more fluid, flexible nature of the rapid prototyping process.
Other teams operate in working spaces built for collaboration — with plenty of areas to sketch and gather for impromptu meetings when designs are ready for feedback. A company’s culture has as much to do with the speed of a rapid prototyping exercise as the talent of the designers working on the process.
Some industries impose regulations that make it more difficult to run rapid UI prototyping. Healthcare represents one such industry. Companies or teams working on designing and manufacturing a medical device must be conscious how regulators’ “musts,” like design controls, impact the ability to run a rapid prototyping process, rapidly.