Prototyping for mobile apps is one of the emerging trends in the tech world and quite an important one. Before launching the product, it is good to have a preliminary round of feedback gathering as it helps tie up loose ends and make the final product flawless.
Prototype development is considered the first step to creating a thriving mobile app. Prototyping has a lot of advantages in stock, such as estimation of estimated costs, modification of the design, correction of bugs and errors, the realization of real needs and expectations of end users, and rapid modifications.
However, it remains a largely unexplored area and people have yet to discover its potential, learn its importance, and how they can create a successful prototype with minimal resources. This article is aimed at helping such people in their endeavors by giving them a quick overview of the need for prototyping and the main stages of prototype development.
What is a mobile app prototype and why do you need one?
Simply put, a mobile app prototype is a mockup of the actual product and consists of the interface, necessary design elements, and simulated features and functions that the original product is supposed to have. Although the prototype gives the feeling of real application, it does not contain the entire cream.
The concept of prototyping was originally taken from the CAD (Computer-aided Design) section of the manufacturing world. It can also be compared to blueprints in architecture. The basic idea of prototyping is to gather information about the application’s interface, its features, and overall usability.
Based on the insights, the necessary elements are improvised accordingly so that investors can manage economical resource allocation and reduce time and effort. As for the need part, there are several reasons why an individual or business must go into prototype development, and here we have listed the essential ones. You need a mobile app prototype to:
- understand the feasibility of your ideas because it often happens that application ideas sound too good to be true in their practical form. After all, nobody wants to spend money on abstract ideas.
- Get a clear idea of the purpose of the app, because everything seems great at the beginning, but a prototype will help you find out if it is really needed or not and if it is true to its purpose.
- find any functional and design flaws and make changes by experimenting with alternatives before finalizing the solution.
- gather feedback from real users and monitor market response and work on areas for improvement.
- get an overall estimate of the resources and time that will be spent on the actual project.
5 Major Phases
Phase 1 – The Recognition Phase (of needs and requirements)
The recognition phase is the first fundamental step of development. The prototype is about verifying the basic features and functions of the application based on its purpose. So it is important to recognize the primary needs of the application and identify the basic, essential and relevant features that would make it to the actual development stage.
Let’s say you’re prototyping a ticket booking app. Now you may want to focus on simulating features that are absolutely necessary, such as:
- selection of date and location
- search and filter functions
- booking options
- download formats
- instant notifications
- payment gateways
- checkout process
The thing to remember here is that the prototype should not be crammed with too many features, because the more features you keep, the more time it will take to implement them.
Stage 2 – Paper Sketch Stage
The next stage is to quickly communicate, revise and rework ideas to preserve the core of the application. The best way to do this is to sketch initial designs on paper that will act as a minimalist wireframe. For example, to draw a prototype for an e-commerce application, you might sketch proxy buttons for Wish List, Add to Cart, Buy Now, and Save for Later.
With the right markups and symbols, such as arrows, flowcharts, cursors and checkboxes, text boxes, and dialog boxes, you can easily create a rough and ready visualization with essential design elements.
The biggest advantage of a paper sketch is that you can repeat it as many times as you want because it does not involve any technical matters. Once you have completed the basics, you can proceed to the next stage based on your paper wireframe.
Phase 3 – Prototype development phase
At this stage, the paper sketch is turned into a digital version. This transformation has different layers and each layer addresses different requirements. Let’s take a look at each of them.
- The first is to choose a good prototyping application and tools. Figma, InVision Studio, Origami Studio – there are plenty of good ones available. Choose the one based on your requirements.
- The second is to prepare the screens with colors, fonts, and a suitable background.
- The third is to improve the interface with interactive elements such as images, animations, and content. The good thing is that most apps offer a library of common Android and iOS UI elements, which means it’s easy to create a professional app prototype in no time.
- The fourth is the addition of functional elements such as buttons, frames, and navigation bars.
A notable point is that since most of the features are just simulations, it would be smart to resist the temptation to spend too much time perfecting its look and function.
Phase 4 – Testing phase
Once you have your prototype ready, it’s time to test it. This is where you might want to make sure the prototype is accessible to as many people as possible. Diversified feedback will help you not only find the most common flaws but also help you get small details that may have been skipped.
You can ask your colleagues and friends to test it, but the best way to get the most honest information is to let random users use and test it. You can conduct surveys based on the design and usability of your prototype.
You can even record user interaction to make tests more efficient. Prototyping apps like InVision even allow users to comment on the prototype and help you gather essential information in real-time, which can prove to be very useful.
Phase 5 – Communication phase
Last but not least, we have the communication phase where you demonstrate mobile application prototypes to your investors and potential clients. Many developers and individuals pitching their ideas to investors are content to send an email link.
But since you are the one who knows exactly how things work in it, be wise enough to give them a proper tutorial of your prototype as this will define your sincerity and portray your dedication and professionalism.
Don’t forget to collect feedback as well, as it is proof of your success. This is especially important to keep in mind when presenting a product prototype to clients, as they are always skeptical.
There was a time when prototyping for mobile apps was an option, but not anymore. With the increasing number of devices and their diversity in terms of screen size, hardware, and features, a prototype has become a necessity. It is clear that the development of a prototype product is possible without getting too involved in the technical details.
But since both your money and your future are at stake here, it would be a wise choice to hire mobile app prototyping services. After all, it’s about convincing your investors and clients with the best presentation, and professionals can help you do that. You can team up with an experienced designer to take care of the user interface and make it better, you can even hire a developer to program and make the advanced features work.