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The importance of prototyping user experience

Your product’s user experience is only as good as the prototypes that came before it. Okay, well that’s not strictly true — those earlier drafts of your app, website or other digital products have come a long way since first scribbled on the office whiteboard. But prototyping is an essential part of the product design process, and one that could make or break your product — whether you’re starting completely from scratch or revamping what you already have.

The design prototypes you build during your UX design process will help to improve the final product you pass on to your users, ensuring a slick user experience that has been trialled and tested every step of the way.

But just why is UX prototyping such an important step of the creative journey? Let’s get into it.

What is a UX prototype?

A UX prototype is a basic representation of your digital product’s user interface and all the interactions that you intend to pack into it. Designers typically make several UX prototypes throughout the design process, serving as iterative drafts of the final product.

UX prototyping is different from UI prototyping in that it considers the overall flow and functionality of a digital product, including the interactions a user will have with on-screen elements, rather than the general appearance and aesthetic elements addressed by UI prototyping.

UX prototyping has several key aims:

  • To visualise how the product will look and function
  • To generate feedback from internal designers and external user groups
  • To validate ideas before sending a product for development
  • To highlight any pain points in the user flow

Together, these objectives help to deliver the best user experience for the final product that you create. In turn, a well-executed digital product UX offers a range of benefits: including higher user adoption, higher conversion rates, and a positive brand reception

You should think of your prototypes as the blueprints of your digital experience, offering a preview of how users will see and navigate the product. They’re exciting, they’re helpful, and they’re vital to get right if you want to produce a best-in-class UX.

Types of prototype

There isn’t one single way to create a prototype — it all depends on the requirements, objectives and scope of your design project. However, for education’s sake, we’re going to talk about two primary types of UX prototypes that are traditionally used at different stages of the design process.

1. Low-fidelity prototypes

This is prototyping in its simplest form, usually performed by sketching UI elements in wireframes and mapping the possible interactions between them. This allows for the documentation of ideas in those early brainstorming sessions, enabling designers to quickly and cheaply visualise key UX elements using simple lines, shapes, and text.

While low-fidelity prototypes might describe the interactions users could have with design elements, they tend not to simulate the functionality itself. Instead, they focus on showing the fundamental structure and flow of a product.

These design prototypes are usually mapped out on a whiteboard or paper — the latter of which is imaginatively titled “paper prototyping”.

2. High-fidelity prototypes

You probably saw this coming. The more detailed UX blueprints are known as high-fidelity prototypes. These are traditionally made later in the design process, to capture realistic user flows and interactions using mockup designs. High-fidelity prototypes aim to intricately map out complex UX elements such as carousels, drop-down menus and other functional elements. They help designers to interrogate how the final product will look and feel for users.

High-fidelity prototypes can be detailed click-through simulations or fully coded mockups intended to closely resemble the final product. While these can be expensive and time-consuming to make, they are the most realistic portrayal of the product that designers get to see before sending their creations for development — so can be especially useful for identifying usability issues or ironing out friction points.

What are UX prototyping tools?

Illustrating your UX designs using pen and paper is certainly useful in some contexts, but it has limitations when it comes time to send your final drafts for development. With paper prototypes, you’re more likely to miss potential usability issues as you won’t be able to conduct any simulated usability testing. Plus, it makes it harder to iterate based on the design strengths and weaknesses that you do identify.

Instead, we prefer to create all of our late-stage prototypes using dedicated software. These are some of the tools you’ll want to consider to bring your prototypes to life:

1. Figma

Figma is one of the top-billed all-in-one design tools, used by developers, marketers and designers alike. The desktop-based software offers real-time collaboration features so designers can work together to drag and drop visual elements, edit typography and integrate advanced features like plugins and conditional logic.

2. Sketch

Sketch is another all-in-one design suite that is popular with macOS-based designers. It offers a wide selection of resources and plugins to take prototypes from low-fidelity drafts to well-oiled UX projects ready for developer handoff.

3. Adobe XD

Adobe XD is integrated with the entire Adobe Creative Cloud suite, supporting easy transfer of assets between other tools like Photoshop and Illustrator. The app has a handy Design mode for static projects and interface curation, and a more interactive Prototype mode to assist with user flow mapping.

The Shoreditch Design approach to prototyping

So, what are the different prototyping methods in UX design? The truth is, you can use whatever format or tool that works for you — each of our talented bunch of designers follows a different approach. However, there is a set of unifying best practices that we follow to fail-safe our UX design process.

These are some of the principles our designers follow when UX prototyping — and why we think they’re so important.

1. Prioritise user needs

When putting together the early drafts of our product’s UX, we want our primary focus to be on responding to the needs, preferences and pain points of our intended user base. This means that before we even put pen to paper, we conduct thorough research of user personas to inform the entire design process. We look at quantitative data — average conversion rates, bounce rates, user satisfaction — and qualitative data — user interviews, customer support feedback, card sort findings. This consideration is crucial as it helps us to put user needs first and design experiences with high engagement.

We trialled countless design elements for sports performance platform SBG, aiming to solve the challenge of presenting lots of data and graphics in a small viewport. To do so, we produced prototypes with many different contrast and legibility adjustments.

2. Iterate and refine with user testing

Prototyping is no one-and-done activity — it’s an ongoing process of feedback and refinement. When creating our design prototypes, we trial each draft with user groups and receive feedback to guide our next iteration. This comprehensive user testing is important as it ensures that no pain points go unaddressed and no usability issues are overlooked. As a result, faults are less likely to make it through to development, at which point they would become all the more time-consuming and expensive to fix.

Our collaboration with garage startup Left Lane broke new ground, delving into a market we had limited experience of. We conducted deep user testing cycles with the Left Lane team and market representatives to create a UX prototype that addressed all the novel features the auto-tech platform needed.

3. Incorporate market best practices

As part of our prototyping research process, we keenly seek out market inspiration — be it industry trends, competitor offerings, or the very apps and websites that we use in day-to-day life. In the digital-first market, inspiration is everywhere — offering invaluable insights into what resonates with users and drives engagement. This equips us to create intuitive, user-friendly interfaces, ensuring that the final product we produce aligns with industry best practices and market demand. This is a crucial element which provides our products their footing in a competitive landscape.

When we worked with the precious stone investment brand Kimby, we researched and trialled a breadth of styles for their UX. We took best practices from both e-commerce outlets and crowdfunding sites to design a totally unique navigation style for this ambitious startup, and a professional prototype to send for development.

Leave your UX prototyping to Shoreditch Design

Our approach to designing UX prototypes ensures that each product we design exceeds user expectations, driving high rates of adoption and minimising the friction when getting a product to market. Producing a quality UX prototype is just one of the critical steps that you’ll need to take when designing a digital product — but it’s what our talented designers do day in, day out.

If you’re working on a new concept for a digital product, or looking to breathe new life into one of your existing experiences, we can help. Our talented bunch of designers know what it takes to produce a best-in-class user experience, and quality UX prototyping is part and parcel of this journey. It helps us to visualise the product, highlight what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately, inform the future choices we make for your app, website, or other digital experience.

To get the full rundown of how Shoreditch Design could help with your UX prototyping needs, have a look at some of our other UX designs or book a chat with a member of the team.

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