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Rapid Prototyping – design a quicker and more effective web solution

In comparison to other situations, when developing website solutions or applications it is particularly the case that clients can find it hard to visualise the final output of the solution (in terms of its appearance and how it will work). They must therefore wait for weeks and months for the supplier, which is trying to turn their requirements into a functional application and hoping that the result will be in line with their expectations. This applies not to only appearance and performance, but in terms of verifying whether the output is usable (functionality testing by real users), because user testing is the next stage after development.

If a project is carried out in the way described above, in most cases potential problems and shortcomings are detected very late in the day; rectifying them will either be very costly or there will be no time for such remedies. As a result, rapid prototyping is now being used increasingly in web integration projects too. It was originally used in product design, starting in the 1980s, and enables a real model of a future product to be created and testing its appearance and functionality.

What is a prototype application and how does prototyping work?

In the development of web solutions or applications rapid prototyping is an interactive scale model of future applications (or parts of them), simulating key functionality and also sometimes the final look. Rapid prototyping emerges in the initial stages of the project, and thanks to the application of specialised tools, preparation of a prototype is very fast. Speed is a key parameter of prototyping, and even with a limited budget it supports multiple iterations, reflecting the results of user testing and any client comments. After verification of the key features of the proposal (in a few quick iterations) the prototype introduces a visualised specification of key parts of the application for subsequent development.

Scheme

How does it start?

Before preparing an individual application prototype several basic questions must be considered:

  • Why prepare a prototype?
    • For verification of specific system approach
    • For verification that individual solutions can be carried out
    • For clarifying the projects scope and application requirements
    • For testing key components in the early stages of the project
    • For obtaining feedback from users or stakeholders
  • What are the limitations and foundations?
    • Approach to development: native x hybrid x web solution.
    • Supported platforms (in native applications this has an influence on GUI design)
    • Supported devices
  • What part of the future application will be prototyped?
    • GUI and interaction with the system
    • Only key functionalities
  • What medium/method is used for preparing the prototype?
    • Paper prototypes
    • Interactive digital prototypes
  • How detailed should the prepared prototype be?
    • Appearance: from sketch through to design.
    • Functionalities: from static prototypes to fully interactive prototypes.
    • Content: from minimal final content through to actual content.

In addition to the individual reasons for preparing the prototype (outlined above), it is just as important to determine the scope and detail, since such parameters have a significant impact on the overall work required.

In the early stages of prototyping it is advise to use “paper prototypes“ with low levels of detail, where several layout concepts are designed quickly and serve as a basis for brainstorming and gathering feedback from users. In subsequent phases, involving the development of key parts of the solutions (simulating behaviour and interactions), it is appropriate to use specialised tools for preparing interactive prototypes. It has been proved that prototypes should be kept at medium levels of detail (medium-fidelity prototypes), when an interactive black and white prototype emerges without application of visual styles and final content. This level of detail allows discussion of the proposal with the client and implementation of user testing, while ensuring there are no distractions from comments on the look and feel of the solution.

Why create a prototype?

  • A visualised specification in the form of an interactive prototype of future applications is obtained, enabling easier communication between the supplier and the client.
  • It will help ensure more specific feedback from the clients in the early stages of the project.
  • The accuracy of every detail of the design/functionalities/product/services can be checked before programming starts.
  • Thanks to the speed of incorporating the changes to the prototypes, the entire process of creating the application can be speeded and the number of requests for changes in advanced stages of development can be reduced.
  • It will help ensure better defined application requirements and validate their implementation in the prototype.
  • A better idea of the estimated cost of application development can be obtained.
  • Thanks to the prototype a visual representation of the final application is gained and enables better demonstration of the feasibility of your idea to other people (investors, colleagues, and superiors).

For most web integration projects, which include a user interface, using a prototype brings obvious benefits. Of course, it is necessary to take into account the size of the project and budget, but due to different methods of preparation and proper defining of appropriate scale and detail, it is possible, with little effort, to prepare high-quality prototype that will help allow successful implementation of a web integration project.

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