When it comes to UX design, prototyping is a crucial step in the process. However, how do you know what method is best for your design team? We hope to shed some light on this. In this article, we will discuss the 4 key prototyping methods and how they can be utilized in your UX design and UX research processes.
4 prototyping methods
The 4 main methods are rapid (throwaway) prototyping, evolutionary prototyping, incremental prototyping, and extreme prototyping. Let’s dive in to each method to learn how they work and the best context for each.
Rapid prototyping, also known as throwaway prototyping is a method that features fast iteration and turnaround times. The prototypes generated within this method are only relevant over a short period of time for a single design sprint.
Each iteration goes through several cycles of UX research, user testing and feedback, changes, and evaluation. Then UX designers and developers receive the feedback for reference and implementation. Once the design sprint is complete, the prototype is discarded. Designers develop a new prototype for any new design sprints.
This method of prototyping is all about building upon itself as UX designers go along. With evolutionary prototyping, the process starts with a basic prototype that meets basic system requirements, similar to a minimum viable product. It doesn’t have most of the features and functions that customers might require or expect. As the prototype undergoes usability testing and the design team receives feedback, they are able to add in the new features.
Incremental prototyping is best for large interface builds, namely complex software. With this method, designers build separate, smaller prototype modules that represent segments of the whole build. These modules are built in parallel, and each module is evaluated and refined separately. After all of the increments are ready and fine-tuned, they are merged together. Then, the comprehensive build can. undergo user testing and evaluation for consistency, cohesiveness, and functionality.
The biggest challenge with this method is making sure that all of the individual parts are designed in a way that is consistent with the desired outcome. The best way to ensure cohesiveness is to create a set of guidelines from the beginning. Each UX designer should follow these, as they build their individual modules.
The final method is extreme prototyping. This is excellent and common for mobile app development. Because most apps have two layers – a presentation layer and a services layer – this form of prototyping allows for both layers to be properly developed and evaluated.
The presentation layer is the the front-facing user interface that customers interact with and navigate. The services layer holds the backend services, communications, business logic, and authentication and authorization for the app. In order to properly build a prototype under the extreme method, there are three main phases:
In the build phase, designers create the user interface for the presentation layer of the mobile app. The prototype in this phase has limited interactivity, with just enough to showcase various user journeys.
After the presentation layer goes through the build phase, designers transform it into HTML with full functionality. Then they connect the layer to a simulated version of the services layers.
The last phase is to fully code and implement the services layer to pull together a fully developed and functional app.
Of course, designers and UX researchers conduct usability testing throughout the different phases. As users provide feedback, the design team is able to go back and implement changes that lead to evolution through each phase.
The importance of prototype usability testing
In all of this, the key is prototype usability testing. No matter the method you use, it is crucial to test your prototype frequently and further develop it into something that customers can use. Kicking off the early stages of the design process with prototyping and prototype usability testing leads to a better user experience and saves you money in the long run.
In conclusion, all of these prototyping methods serve a purpose, depending on your design plans and process. The key is to understand what your end goal is in order to know which method will best get you there. And of course, it is absolutely vital to conduct prototype usability testing throughout the process.