No matter what product you’re working on, whether it is a website, mobile app, landing page, it’s always important to validate your design decisions before you ship them to users. Some product teams postpone validation until they have an almost complete solution. But this is a very risky approach. As we all know, the later we find the issue, the more expensive it becomes to fix it. Fortunately, no matter what stage you’re in the design process, it’s always possible to create a tangible representation of your idea—a prototype— and test it.
In this article, I want to discuss the
practical tips for gathering valuable product insights using your
What is Prototype?
The best way to think about prototypes is that they’re a representation of a finished product. This representation should have only essential details that help you validate your hypothesis. Prototyping allows us to quickly build on ideas generated in the ideation stage and observe how people (your team members, stakeholders, or real users) interact with them. It’s worth remembering that interactivity is the critical difference between prototypes and wireframes/mockups. Prototypes allow test participants to interact with design like making an action and seeing a response.
What can you test with your prototype?
Basically, anything. You can test entire
user flows or individual pages or measure the general feasibility and usability
of a product before building and designing a fully-functioning product.
Lo-fi and hi-fi prototypes: when and how to test each?
There are two types of prototypes – low
fidelity prototypes and high fidelity prototypes. The level of fidelity
describes the level of detail.
Low-fidelity prototypes are good for concept validation
“Are we going in
the right direction?” is a fairly common question among the product teams,
especially at the early stages of the product design process. The only way to
find an answer to this question is to create a tangible solution and test it.
tangible solution shouldn’t take much time. Paper prototyping is a quick and
cost-effective technique that is perfect for assessing high-level user
journeys. Designers can draw something
on paper, then create a digital version of the designs and create a connection
between screens using a prototyping tool.
Here are a few questions to ask during a
lo-fi prototype evaluation:
- Do you understand what it does?
- How do you feel about it?
- Does anything seem out of place
Quick tip When it comes to evaluating design directions, it’s worth presenting not only a single idea, but a few alternatives and let the test participants decide what version of design they like the most.
Hi-fi prototypes are good for evaluating complex interactions
At the time when you have a clear understanding of where your design is going, you will need to find the best possible solution for each interaction. It is the perfect time to start creating hi-fi prototypes. Using hi-fi prototypes allows you to evaluate complex user interactions (such as a particular user journey like purchasing items in an eCommerce app) and get their reaction on particular design decisions (i.e. color that you use for primary call-to-action buttons).
When it comes to creating hi-fi prototypes, modern prototyping tools allow turning lo-fi prototypes into hi-fi. Basically, all you need to do is add more details.
Here are a few questions to ask during a hi-fi prototype evaluation:
- Do users like the visual
- Is there something that looks
strange or confusing for you?
- Does anything distract you or
get in your way?
Basic rules of prototype testing
When it comes to prototype testing, it’s
possible to define a few fundamental rules that will be applicable for all
Have a clear goal for testing
Before you start testing your prototypes
and gather feedback, you should be sure about what exactly you are testing for.
It’s worth defining a goal (or goals) for testing.
Test early, test often
Redesigning a prototype is a lot easier
(and less expensive) than reworking a finished product. And testing shouldn’t
stop once your product ships. Whenever you have an idea of how to make the user
experience better, you should create a prototype and test it with your users.
Let test participants contribute ideas
During your testing session, you should
allow your test participants to contribute ideas on how to make the prototype
better. Encourage test participants to provide useful critiques by using the “I
Like, I Wish, What If” method
“I Like, I Wish, What If” method allows
test participants to share their feedback in a critical but positive manner. In
“I Like…” statements, the test participant is encouraged to state what s/he
likes about the prototype. In “I Wish…” statements, users are prompted to share
ideas of how the prototype can be improved.
Lastly, in “What If…” statements, the user can share his/her suggestions
about the overall design. The insights you gather by using this simple
technique can be used in the future states of your prototype.
The one thing that makes this technique
special is the way it gathers feedback. Test participants provide their
feedback constructively and positively, in the format of an open discussion.
Have a moderator
Testing with prototypes might require
additional interviews with test participants to get them to talk about their
thinking process while using the prototype. That’s why it’s always recommended
to have a moderator for such testing sessions.
Ideally, you should have two people who run
the testing sessions—a moderator and a recorder. The moderator is responsible
for keeping the session on-track – s/he guides the test participants through
the tasks. The recorder is responsible for recording notes, quotes, and any
Test with the right people
Testing won’t provide any valuable insights
if you conduct it with the wrong people. Generally, it’s recommended to test
your design with people who will use it (your target audience).
Be neutral when presenting your ideas
When you present your prototypes to your
users, refrain from trying to sell your idea. Remember that prototyping and
testing are about finding ways to improve your idea, and selling your idea can
be detrimental to that goal.
When test participants provide negative
feedback about your prototype, refrain from trying to defend it. Instead, ask
clarifying questions to understand what exactly is wrong with your solution,
and how you can improve it.
Testing a prototype is different from
testing a finished product. Make sure you inform test participants before the
test about the limitations of your design. It will make testing more focused.
All the information you gather from prototype testing should be put into action. The product team should use the insights they gather when creating a new version of a prototype. It’s better to form a habit of iterative design.
Prototype testing is a lot more than just
an approach to validate your design decisions. It’s a way to make the design
process more flexible. When you form a habit of testing your design decisions,
you help you make more data-informed design decisions.