Making Ideas Real—Methods for prototyping ideas and testing their underlying assumptions


Director, Strategy & Content | Podcast Host of Mobile Interactions Now

6min read
Blog - Making Ideas Real

Building prototypes to test assumptions will help your business resolve uncertainties around concepts that are born from solution brainstorming. During the design process, you need to test your prototype, take feedback from stakeholders and users, implement that feedback and repeat the cycle until you come up with the most appropriate solution for the problem.

Prototypes come in various types, forms, and qualities. When it comes to how close they are to an accurate representation of the user interface, prototypes can be divided into low and high fidelity.

Low Fidelity (LF) prototypes are best used in the early stages of testing as changes can be made very quickly, without much effort, and they do not require advanced skills. High Fidelity (HF) prototypes are often mistaken with the final product—while they are highly functional and interactive, they are also time-consuming and expensive to build. They should be used when multiple iterations of your prototype have been completed by taking user feedback into account.

There are several tangible methods of prototyping to ensure the experience your business is shaping meets customer expectations and generates business outcomes:

1. Sketches and Diagrams (LF)
These methods help you clarify and test your idea by bringing it to life with minimum effort and assist you in defining the customer’s needs. Sketching requires minimal effort as it can be done anywhere with a minimum of tools (pen/paper or intelligent devices). Even the simplest of sketches can easily illustrate your ideas. Diagrams and mind maps can also be used to illustrate a system, process, or structure of an idea.


2. Paper Prototyping (LF)
Paper interfaces are handy at the early stages of prototyping, especially for digital products. By building low-tech models out of paper and other materials, you can make a tangible product, space, or touch-point within a service. This helps people see and understand your idea in a short amount of time. When you use paper interfaces efficiently, you can uncover many areas for betterment in the early stages, such as usability, which can lead to quick improvements.


3. Storyboards (LF)
This method will help you understand the entire user scenario from the user's point of view, as telling stories is an excellent way of guiding customers through a user experience. Storyboarding will help you visualize the user’s journey in detail and enables you to keep in mind the context of the solution you are designing. It also helps develop an empathic understanding of users and generates high-level ideation and discussions but not fine-tuned details.


4. Lego Prototypes (LF)
Building models built of Lego bricks allows you to create a tangible output from an idea quickly. You can easily dismantle them and simulate a user’s journey. Your Connected Experience (CE) team can dive straight into setting up your scenarios and telling stories. With Lego, the cost and time are minimal compared to building a fully functional product, and the team can start over and validate assumptions as many times as they need to.


5. Role-playing (LF)
You can use this method to gain an empathic understanding of your users—through simulating what they are experiencing. When few resources are available, this method is ideal for investigating a user experience. An interaction test can be carried out using this method to probe a product prototype. Your team can gain a better understanding of the customer experience by re-enacting scenes and situations. Consider combining this method with storyboarding in order to capture the scenes and the lessons you will learn from each one.


6. Digital Mockups (HF)
Wireframes and mockups are often used to transform intangible concepts, such as user interactivity, into tangible objects or screens. Using this approach allows better user testing and generates debates about the design and how the user interacts with the solution. It’s an intuitive way to test  customer interaction and communications between digital and human interfaces.


7. User-driven Prototypes (HF)
These are ideal if there's an opportunity to test an idea directly with the user. This method is different from the others as it is user-led: instead of your designer completing the prototype, it will be built through the eyes of the users themselves. This way, you can co-create the experience with the user, factoring in their desires and needs, as well as fine-tune the details of their experience with their direct input. It is vital that you strike a balance between what you provide to users and what they are expected to do on your behalf. Have a prototype that inspires generative thinking but also remains open enough to allow users to understand it sufficiently to modify it themselves.

What method should you use?

It can sometimes be a little overwhelming when you and your team are trying to decide what exactly to build, with such a wide range of prototypes to choose from.

Think about the idea you want to test and the context in which the solution will be used. If it’s primarily used in multi-actor situations, role-playing and storyboarding will help you better understand the dynamics involved in the experience . If you’re tackling a usability problem, say your customers are complaining how hard it is to redeem loyalty points, using a digital mockup to see how they can interact with your new process will shed more light.

If you are unsure what kind of prototype to use, make a few and test them. Gather results, do your best to objectively interpret them, and go back to the drawing board. Your first few prototypes may fail, but these will tell you so much more compared to just thinking about what to do.

To accomplish the goal of the entire design process, as described in our main story , it is crucial not to see prototyping in isolation but to think about what would work best for your users and achieving their goals.

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