In the last few years, we have seen an increase in clients interested in user testing prototypes, which has impacted the UX research industry. This is due to a shift towards creating prototypes as part of the design and development process.
Prototypes are very quick to create and help execute new ideas on the fly. Prototypes can also be changed and modified quickly. In addition, they provide a very clear, tangible and workable platform that assists anyone working on a project, such as designers, developers, project managers and stakeholders.
Unlike a design or wireframe that is a static image and representation of what users see on screen, turning a wireframe into something interactive – a prototype – is quite powerful. It gives stakeholders a much better understanding of what they are going to get. Developers can more accurately provide an estimate of their time, and Designers can find flaws more readily in a prototype than a wireframe. It facilitates much better communication in general with everyone involved in the project.
Creating prototypes is now easier than ever before due to a flood of products on the market that are constantly improving such as Visio, Fireworks, Omni-graph, Balsamic, just to name a few. This allows anyone to design a prototype even if they don’t have any design or development skills.
When creating a new website design or application we highly recommend conducting user testing during the prototype stage, rather than later down the track when it has been built. Our clients seem to agree. The reasons for this are as follows:
- Eliminate non-essential features. The features that a business expects users to want or need are not necessarily the features that users really want or need.
- Save time. Changes can be made quickly as it’s only a prototype. These changes can be made and another round of testing can be done to confirm that the changes have made a positive impact.
- Save money. Usability testing reveals what works and what doesn’t work. It allows problems to be caught early and provides an opportunity to rectify these problems. It’s far more costly to re-develop a website than it is to re-generate a prototype.
- Get buy-in. During the design phase it is common for people to have differing views as to what will create the most easy to use interface. This makes it very difficult to approve or sign-off on a design.
- Socialising. It can be quite a challenge for clients to convince their stakeholders that the design is going to achieve their business goals. User testing helps with this, as it gives them the facts and figures and scientific proof of the validity of a new design.
- Easier communication to Designers. Often our clients engage a design agency to create the designs for them. When the designers observe the sessions, they have first-hand understanding of the changes that need to be made.
- Compare prototypes. Sometimes clients develop two concepts for a prototype and need to learn which direction they should take.
We believe we are seeing more interest in prototype user testing as it is a rapid means of validating whether or not the design is going to ‘work’ with real users, and puts to rest any uncertainty regarding the prototype and it’s viability. It is relatively in-expensive, is quick to turn around, and provides the insights that businesses need to move forward.