7 ways to build better prototypes

As a UX designer, I’m constantly building prototypes. I want to do it better, and am constantly looking for inspiration to improve my process. These are a few things I’ve been learning along the way of becoming a better designer.

1. Share crazy ideas

Welcome and encourage out-there ideas! Don’t criticize or shoot down ideas that you don’t agree with, or don’t think are possible. Question and evaluate them, see what you can learn from them. Often it’s easy to view a project through a lens of constraints, but I’m learning the importance of slowing down to explore the could and would before diving into the should and can’t.

2. Bring together diverse backgrounds

Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. When working on a problem, see who you can bring in (even for a quick chat!) who may be able to add a different perspective to a project. Also, don’t let seniority get in the way of decision making — a top-down approach to managing a project can create an environment that stifles creativity.

3. Leverage existing research

Your time is valuable, so don’t do unnecessary work. Research can often be hard to sell to your client (or even internal team). Using existing research to help guide your design process can save time and money! A better prototype is a tested prototype, so getting that first iteration out quickly is key.

4. Solve your problem in 5 minutes

If you have one hour to solve a problem, use 55 minutes to do your research and 5 minutes to come up with a solution. Test it. Revise. Repeat. Thoroughly understanding the problem you are trying to solve is crucial to coming up with an effective solution. Save time and energy by eliminating assumptions with insights, and being sure that you have identified the right problem to solve.

5. Choose the proper tools

Consider the purpose of the prototype. Are you testing a new interaction pattern? Getting sign-off from a stakeholder? Exploring layouts with your design team? There’s no need to make a beautiful, fully-designed page in Photoshop if you want to conduct a simple usability test.

I like to start with a Sharpie and a piece of paper — it’s easy to get “lost in the weeds” when you start in high-fidelity early on. I once worked with a designer who started every project immediately at a high fidelity in Illustrator. When presenting the first-round design to the client, he would get lost in discussion about typeface and color when the real conversation that needed to happen was about functionality.

6. Be nimble and resourceful when building your prototype

I love this example of rapid prototyping a shopping cart from IDEO — they built and tested a physical prototype in a single day! The team worked quickly and efficiently, being resourceful with basic materials to develop functional prototypes that could be tested.

7. Use time constraints to control output

Having a finite amount of time can spark creativity and keep projects from lagging. Conducting a Design Studio is a fun way to leverage this! Read the details here, but the basic process is

Define the problem ‣ Diverge ‣ Critique ‣ Iterate ‣ Converge

A few resources I ❤ when prototyping are…

  • Invision for quick clickable mocks that are easy to share with clients
  • Adobe XD for end-to-end prototyping ability
  • Axure to test interaction-heavy flows
  • Google forms for simple (& free!) surveys

What have you found helpful when designing prototypes?

I want to improve my writing, among other things. This is my sandbox. Topics not limited to: design, feelings, education & relationships. Based in LA ☀️

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