Building better products faster
Prototyping early and often offers many advantages in the product development process. Creating a functional design prototype is arguably the most efficient way to make product design decisions before moving to an MVP. A prototype lets you make informed product decisions that you can present to the client stakeholders for their review and buy-in. Design prototypes help us think through how people will use the product or service. It’s important to understand this before spending too much time iterating on an idea or feature that people don’t want or need.
While the tangible functionality of a prototype can vary from paper to digital, the fidelity of the prototype also can vary. From a basic UI and only the necessary components to a highly polished experience that closely resembles the final product. In the discovery phase of a project, a design prototype fits perfectly between iterating quickly and providing valuable data to inform design decisions. What is written in a spec doc or sketched on a whiteboard starts to take shape in a design prototype, surfacing new ideas, potential issues and providing a feedback loop with the people that will be using your product. A highly polished design prototype can help unify the product vision with multiple stakeholders and is a great presentation tool for securing funding.
The digital world is far from static, so using tools to design closest to actual code provides the most flexibility when working in different contexts, and for the vast array of the devices in the world today.
HTML prototypes offer many advantages, from being platform agnostic to behaving like the actual product. Webflow is a great tool for creating a digital prototype. Its visual coding approach has a low learning curve and you can build rich, device independent experiences with full control over interaction and animations - all without inhibiting creative freedom. It also provides checks and balances, so you know what is being designed can be implemented efficiently.
A clickable prototype is the next best thing. Sketch and Figma both offer an easy way to connect your artboards with links and hotspots. They offer simple transitions and animations to create interactive, clickable prototypes. But to really hone in on a realistic product prototype, use tools like Principle, Flinto, Origami, and Framer. There are plenty of reviews for these proprietary tools and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Things to look out for—does the tool support native import for your design format? Does it support a multi-screen prototype vs just key interactions on one screen? Be mindful that the product doesn’t lock you into one device preview. Avoid stressful last-minute adjustments to the prototype before a meeting because a primary stakeholder purchased the latest iPhone. The complexity of the tool can also turn into an issue which can lead to spending too much time on the prototype when you could have just coded it.
Investing in a design prototype early will help you save both time and resources in the long run. It’s conducive to a user-centered design process which is key to building great products that people will want to use. The more you learn about your users and validate assumptions, the greater your chances for a successful product.