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The Importance of Application Prototyping & How It Can Save You From Future Headaches

Alexa Alfonso
May 8, 2020

Technology holds all of us together — especially now. Every business’s digital toolkit exists so that its employees can stay connected, collaborate, and move the needle on important company initiatives. It’s important, now more than ever, for companies to work smarter, not harder.

But when it comes to building digital products (or iterating on existing apps), many teams skip a very critical step: prototyping & testing with real users. Why is that?

Oftentimes, teams are pressured to find solutions to problems using technology, but fail to create a direct line of feedback with the people using the application. Other times, the request is so urgent that timelines are expedited to meet arbitrary deadlines before products are truly validated. We’ve also talked with teams who are used to the waterfall method of building software, where apps may be introduced to the market after months of development — only to need an overhaul based on the users’ feedback.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We believe that:

  • There is a better way to build digital products
  • Beautiful software can enable people to spend more time doing meaningful work
  • It’s possible to boil six months’ worth of work down to six weeks
  • The process of prototyping and testing software can prevent you from going down the wrong path and wasting valuable time and money — two extremely precious resources

What is application prototyping and testing?

Prototyping and testing is the process of creating an interactive simulation of a digital product and soliciting feedback from potential users. It’s what is necessary to build a solid & successful application. A great app idea or product enhancement may come to you out of nowhere, but a great app experience doesn’t just appear. It’s the result of many rounds of thoughtful design, testing, iteration, and implementation that leads to success.

Prototyping and testing gives your team the opportunity to review and evaluate concepts in the early stages, and it is a great way to demonstrate value (and potential ROI) to your market, investors, and other stakeholders. The insights generated during the first few weeks of this process can set the trajectory for the rest of the product and help you prove value to your team, boss or other stakeholders.

Some other benefits to this process include:

  • Aligning teams early on the look & feel, success criteria, and key value propositions
  • Accelerating a concept faster than traditional development cycles
  • Iterating on the designs in tandem with technical planning and exploration
  • Pitching and sell the product sooner and with more confidence
  • Reducing costs related to heavy development schedules where testing isn’t present early on
  • Spotting flaws in the flow, UX, or how it relates to the broader product ecosystem
  • Relying on quantitative and qualitative feedback from users, rather than a gut feeling
  • Minimizing team conflicts and increase collaboration
  • Involving stakeholders — and even clients — in the creative process
  • Securing funding or support for full development
  • Creating a shared understanding with the full product team

Why does it matter?

Over the last 10 years building and designing digital products, we’ve talked with a slew of companies — from startups to global enterprises and many in between — who are all asking a loaded but simple question: “How can we provide more value to our users?” For many product teams, it’s critical to communicate the value they bring their clients and ensure that their product is easy to use. Prototyping and testing is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to do that.

Hear from George Brooks, Crema’s CEO & Co-Founder, as he describes the outcomes and potential routes you can take when considering whether to prototype & test your app experience.

Whether you do it yourself or hire a highly-specialized team, the goal is to create user interfaces and common flows to test assumptions and validate the path forward for your product. This way, you can have the confidence that what you want to build is going to provide real value to the end-user. This process can also equip you with the support needed to bring a digital product to life.

We’ve partnered with experts across a wide variety of industries to accelerate and validate their ideas. One of our recent clients said of the collaboration: “Crema has been a critical part of our incredible success in building, from the ground up, a cutting edge Managed Security Business. The designs delivered by the Crema team have resulted in industry analyst recognition as ‘innovative’ and ‘world-class’.

What does the process look like?

Our version of prototyping and testing — much like any design & development practice — has evolved over the years. Rapid prototyping tools like Figma and Sketch have helped speed up design timelines, and remote collaboration platforms like Miro, Zoom, and even usertesting.com have enabled teams to work together without the need of being in the same co-located space.

Our goal as a digital product agency is to help individuals and companies thrive through design, technology, and culture. The approach we take to prototyping and testing is adjusted to meet the needs of every client engagement, but in general, it looks something like this over the course of 4–6 weeks:

  1. Kick-off with a Strategy & Alignment Session to unpack the unique value prop, key metrics, inspiration, and more.
  2. Design a pixel-perfect prototype that addresses key user flows & functionality that were mapped out in the initial kickoff meeting.
  3. Create script and success criteria for testing.
  4. Identify, contact, and schedule interviews with stakeholders and potential users.
  5. Conduct interviews and map feedback.
  6. Refine the app. based on user input.
  7. Uncover any technical considerations and recommendations.
  8. Retest the app with the same group of users.
  9. Finalize the prototype.
  10. Deliver a product roadmap, user interview data, designs, and recommendations on how to proceed.

Where do I go from here?

Whether you need validation on your mobile app, web app, wearable concept or any sort of digital product, testing is key. Even if you don’t have the budget to run full-fledged usability tests, your designs should be tested informally at the very least. Find people around you who can provide their thoughts on the user experience and offer insights into what they expect in the product. It’s this feedback loop that will provide a priceless amount of information on how the product ought to function.

A team of experts can help you achieve the goal of validation sooner by creating and testing a prototype in a matter of weeks with deceivingly realistic prototypes. We help teams reduce uncertainty and validate their ideas — quickly and at the highest quality.

We are consultants at heart. If you have questions about design prototyping methods or how to reach a level of validation needed in your organization, reach out today.