The Idea Behind Rapid Prototyping


Bob is your typical UX’er. He designed a beautiful experience and he would have bet his career that it would work properly. He spent hours perfecting the wires, the designs, and the prototype. He even sold the idea to his colleagues and clients. He was absolutely sure that this experience was golden. Then something unexpected happened. User testing revealed that users were confused and lost within Bob’s masterpiece. He couldn’t do anything, but stand in the observation room behind the two-way mirror with his mouth wide open in shock. The time and energy he spent perfecting these designs were just thrown out the window. He now must go through the painstaking process of back tracking his designs.

I think we have all been in similar situations. It should be encouraging to know that there is, in fact, a simple solution. You should utilize earlier and more often, one of the most powerful tools in the UX arsenal; which happens to be the prototype. The prototype is simply a replica of the concept, process, and/or act within an experience that you are building which is placed in front of users to learn from. While you can get valuable feedback from showing wires and designs, it does not compare to placing the user into the experience by providing them a way to interact. It is the difference between showing someone a photo of a Super Mario Brothers game and handing them a controller and watching them play.

The idea behind prototypes is simple. You want to fake the experience you are creating for the purpose of learning. The prototype can be as simple as using things like sticky notes to a fully coded high fidelity experience. You just need to ask yourself and your team a few questions:

  • What is it that you are testing? It helps to make a list of what needs to be tested, so that you can accurately scope out the prototype.
  • How much functionality needs to be built? Sites are becoming more and more complex, so it is important to target the functionality that you are testing. If you are building out an entire experience it is a good rule of thumb to only include around 20% to 25% of the functionality that would be used majority of the time (key functionality).
  • How much time do you have to design, build, test and iterate? When scoping out the project, is important to identify the amount of time you have to test and learn.
  • Who is your audience? Know the users testing the prototype and where and how the test will be conducted is important. This will help you understand how the prototype will need to be built.

Too often we as UX’ers use testing to validate our designs, rather than guide and steer our decision making. The idea behind Rapid Prototyping is that the development of the experience is driven by user feedback, early testing, and testing often. You can think of it as you are the driver of a car, and the users are the passengers with the roadmap. Rely on the users to direct you to the end goal.


You need to test, learn from The-Idea-Behind-Rapid-Prototyping-img2the test, and then iterate. This loop should be a never-ending process within the lifecycle of your project. Be sure to collaborate by sharing the findings with your team and stakeholders. At the end of project, you will have an experience you can stand behind and own.

Technology and how users interact with it is constantly evolving. It’s becoming harder and harder to just assume something works and something does not. Using Rapid Prototyping to steer your decisions is becoming more and more valuable.

READ MORE: POP Prototyping Interactivity on Paper, Survey Design Sins to Avoid, Choosing the Right Survey Tool for Quantitative UX Research, Strenths and Weaknesses of a True Intent Study

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