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The Benefits of an Interactive Prototype and When You Need One

Software development takes place over several stages. Many consider the development stage itself to be the most important. However, poor planning and design work can scupper a project once it reaches the development stages.

Prototyping makes up an important part of the design process. It’s a way for developers to give clients a glimpse of how a software will look in action. An interactive prototype comes with many benefits. Let’s look at what a prototype actually is before we look at those benefits.

What is an Interactive Prototype?

A prototype can mean different things to different people. Generally, prototypes offer a simulation of how a piece of software will work once developed. The goal is to iron out any design issues so the development process can go ahead without any problems. They allow for the early identification of issues regarding usability. Further, a prototype offers clients a tangible view of what the product they’re paying for will eventually look like.

What constitutes a prototype differs depending on the nature of the project. At the most basic, a prototype could consist of a storyboard that shows how a user would navigate through a piece of software. Many call these “paper prototypes”.

Interactive prototypes have an added layer of complexity. These will show the software in barebones states. The interactive prototype will have none of the software’s intended functionality. However, it will have the basic design structure in place and help clients see how the software will work at the basic level.

For example, a mobile app developer may create an interactive prototype. It will likely allow the client to navigate through the app via a smartphone. The app will not be in a usable state, but the prototype will simulate how an app user would actually the app.

The Benefits

Software development takes place over several stages.

Interactive prototypes offer several benefits over paper prototypes. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Interactivity

The interactivity such prototypes offer is an advantage unto itself. Users can see how the software environment operates at the basic level and can immediately highlight any issues they have. Interactivity benefits developers as well. Watching the user or client interact with the prototype offers clues regarding its usability. Developers can take this information away and iron out any issues before development work beings in earnest.

Showing the Navigational Flow

A major disadvantage of paper prototypes is that they require the client to visualize how a software will operate. All the developer can do is guide the client through the design. This tends to raise a lot of questions. Interactive prototypes do away with this issue altogether. They offer clients the opportunity to experience the full flow of the software. They can navigate at will and thus provide more detailed feedback. This feedback will have the context of a working environment wrapped around it. It won't get hampered due to clients having to visualize the software.

Reducing the Development Time

Interactive prototypes should help the developers find issues ahead of time. Assuming the prototype is of a high enough quality, it will save a substantial amount of time in the development process. Fixing issues early is far preferable to running into them later on when there is a lot of code to consider with every bug fix.

Flexibility

Software development takes place over several stages.

A developer can choose to present several interactive prototypes over the course of the design stage. For example, the developer could present a client with interactive prototypes for each section of an app of software. This shows the client the progress made thus far and creates a framework that the developer can bring together as a final prototype. Of course, developers can also choose to develop a full interactive prototype. The key is that there is some choice.

Less Complexity

The less interactive the prototype, the more time the developer must spend on explaining functionality to the client. If the client can’t see the prototype in action, a developer must provide documentation to explain what happens at each stage of the prototype. This wastes more of the developer’s time. Further, many clients will balk at the idea of reading pages of documentation while referring to a bunch of paper prototypes. Interactive prototypes make things simpler for clients. This allows projects to flow smoother

Reference Tools

As project proceeds, developers will often reference the prototype to ensure they remain on the right track. It is much easier to do this with an interactive prototype than it is a paper one. Interactivity shows the intended actions for buttons, widgets, and the like. A developer can get instant answers to questions instead of poring through reams of specifications to find what they’re looking for.

Enhancing Uptake

Key stakeholders want to see progress in a project. If they don’t see anything getting produced, they may start to lose faith. This can even be the case when work is actually going well. An interactive prototype offers an early display of what the software will grow to be. You should not underestimate the importance of this in regards to maintaining stakeholder interest. Interactive prototypes serve as tangible results of work. From this, developers and stakeholders can decide their next steps.

When Do You Need Interactive Prototypes?

Software development takes place over several stages.

The temptation is to say that all software, website, and mobile app development projects should use interactive prototypes. However, that isn’t the case. The simplest projects may take more time if developers create fully interactive prototypes. A five-page website, for example, doesn’t require much navigation. Clients and developers can visualize how they will work easily. This makes paper prototyping a better option.

Interactive prototypes become much more valuable as a project becomes more complex. For example, a website or app that features submenus underneath main menu items will benefit from interactive prototypes. The same goes for most enterprise software or anything that the client hopes to release commercially.

The simple rule of thumb is that interactive prototypes show their value if the intended software has a lot of moving parts.

The Final Word

An interactive prototype can save a lot of time when used in the correct circumstances. They help developers gain greater understanding of a project and identify design issues early on. Further, they help build the confidence of clients as they offer a tangible view of what the software will eventually offer.

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By interactivated • on August 8, 2017

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