UX Prototyping in 4 Steps for Team Alignment and Common Vision

UX Prototyping in 4 Steps for Team Alignment and Common Vision

A UX Designer’s key moment comes when communicating his research findings and proposed solutions. To be a success there must be no misunderstanding about how the software product should operate. This is crucial because it will define the entire team’s workload.

Here’s how we can unify efforts and avoid confusion.

What Is Going On?

Commonly, developers, testers, and Product Managers need to have a central point of discussion from which individual tasks will be outlined. Most likely, they all work with the same objective in mind: to create the best product possible with the best user experience. A prototype could be that centerpiece.

It can become the point of departure for the team.

The Solution

To shift to a “can do” attitude we must involve the entire team from the start, from prototype to Usability Testing.

A prototype allows the team to quickly bring a solution to users. Watching them getting frustrated or elated is the best way for everyone to be on the same wavelength. The problem is now evident and validated by observation.

1. Creating a Prototype

An effective prototype may vary in its levels of fidelity, from a hand drawing or simple wireframe to a high-fidelity prototype, rich in color and interactions.

I highly recommended that the prototype be based on prior research on habits and expectations of users. To do this there are several UX methodologies that can be applied.

Here is a quick guide,

Fidelity Level When to Use Tools
Paper Prototyping
    • For idea generation
    • To validate information architecture
    • Deciding between layout alternatives
B&W Wireframes
    • Early validation
    • To clear questions on basic interactions
    • To unveil technical barriers
    • To hone information architecture concepts
    • Defining content
Hi-Fi Prototypes
    • Defining styles
    • A/B Testing
    • To gain accurate feedback
Working Demo
    • Fine-tuning details
    • Discovering new interactions
    • To understand new habits created by your product

With prototype in hand, the team is now ready to watch it in action. Early testing will allow you to,

  • Detect critical errors in conceptualization.
  • Make corrections early.
  • Learn more about the problem to be solved.

After having direct contact with users you will notice that the team’s understanding of the problem will evolve. This is absolutely normal and desirable, is known as the paradox of the problem/solution. According to Thomas Wendt,

We cannot think about solutions until we understand the problem, and we cannot understand a problem until we think about (or test) solutions.

2. Recruiting Users

The prototype is ready and you are anxious to try it out. Now you have to recruit users–be very careful on how you go about this.

Here are some recommendations,

  • Define a desired profile, particularly if your product doesn’t have active users.
  • Always offer a reward for their time.
  • Provide scheduling options according to the users’ time availability.
  • Let them know that it is an open invitation. First come, first serve.
  • Usually 5 to 8 users per prototype is enough.
  • If any other team has been in contact with the users, ask for their help (e.g., Sales, Marketing).

3. Testing the Prototype

The core of usability testing is to observe the ways in which users manage themselves in completing a specific task without any additional assistance.

These are some basic recommendations,

  • Prepare a script. There are certain considerations that users must know before starting the test. For example,
      • They must speak their mind out loud
      • They will not receive assistance during the test
      • You are evaluating the design, not them
      • All questions will be answered eventually

    You might find this usability testing template helpful. It is essential that all are clear and detailed enough.

  • Record the meeting. Members of your team should be observers during the session. However, it is a good idea to record live video, or at least the on-screen activity. This will be helpful in the future when anybody in the team wants to reference key aspects of the interaction.
  • Remote Sessions. Do not discard the possibility of testing your prototype with remote users. You can make a video call and record the activity on your screen. Some tools (e.g., InVision) allow you to see the clicks that the user performs.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity. User don’t know and don’t particularly care about the discussions, assumptions, and controversies behind the scene. They are ruthless about the work done. Remain calm and take notes.
  • Be ready for the unexpected. Murphy’s Law will be at work. The network will crash, the prototyping tool will fail, the user will not show up, you forgot to add a component to your prototype, and so on. Anything can happen and you have to be ready for it.

4. Interpreting Results

The million-dollar question is, how detailed should a usability report be? The answer depends on the target audience,

  • For your team, an annotated prototype, a list of user stories, and video clips is enough.
  • For the execs, you must briefly describe the methodology used, then list the discoveries, the errors found, and a plan to correct them. Keep it to no more than two pages.
  • For your own record, you can be as extensive as you’d like and as your time allows.

In all cases the more visual the information, the better. No one has time to read comprehensive reports.

The day will come when that the reasons behind a product-related decision will be questioned, and you’ll want to be ready. So be organized.

Each report is always the start of the next iteration.

A New Beginning

No usability report is enough if it only remains on paper. We have to transform it into a corrected and enhanced prototype based on what we find in the previous iteration.

Conclusions

The prototype is the development team’s ideal strategic piece of discussion. The prototype is a tangible and concrete artifact. It also represents the most accurate solution to real problems for which there is evidence in technical terms, business limitations, and user desirability.

Having the whole team involved from the start is a wise strategy and helps to synchronize everyone’s efforts towards the same goal. It also helps to streamline the development process.

The adoption of the design solutions depends not only on the UX Designer, but also on the understanding that the whole team has about the problem to be solved.

At Nearsoft we have a central philosophy. The best way to make software is to start slow and fast forward towards the end. This prevents us from undoing, redoing, deleting, and discarding code and efforts..

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