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My current preferred method of developing and testing ideas for interfaces I'm designing is creating interactive, sketchy, grayscale prototypes using Axure. I find using grayscale helps put the focus on the interactions rather than the design and the sketchy style stresses the unfinished and disposable nature of a prototype.

I've had success with this method within my team and with user testing but sometimes find it hard to 'sell' stakeholders on the ideas using the same prototypes. Has anyone else experienced this, how did you overcome it?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I've found the most important thing is to set expectations. Stakeholders, especially those who are decision makers, tend to expect polished presentations, and so the idea of something being presented that looks rough and full of caveats simply seems wrong.

In addition, make sure to:

  • Put it in their terms, and make the purpose clear.

  • Wait until you have as much knowledge of the design as possible, then show them. Waiting a day or two to add elements as they get identified by your business analyst puts meat on the bones

  • Tie features of the prototype to your test results (in other words - be concrete). "This little button here looks simple but testing shows it will add one trillion dollars in sales per year to our turnover"

  • Don't get into the minutiae

  • Know your audience, and tailor your presentation to who the stakeholders are (not all stakeholders are the same). If they are decision makers they will be thinking about opportunities, risks, etc etc - make the ideas real by tying the prototype to what your audience cares about.

Not an easy nut to crack.

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+1 for setting expectations. You can show Balsamiq mockups and get away with it as long as you've massaged them up front. –  Rahul Jun 2 '11 at 21:56
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I have to second all of the comments already about using sketching early in the process to get initial buy-in for concepts/approaches, and using these to iron out any potential issues early (and at relatively low cost). As Gary says however, it is very important to set expectations of course (and depends upon the seniority/level of your stakeholders) - no one is under any illusions that sketches are the final product ... you can't get much lower fidelity than a sketch! When I explain that it is a more efficient process however and gives the stakeholders a chance to be involved early (and often - plus they also get to see the project evolve) then we rarely have any problems getting them on-board with the approach. Once skakeholders are happy with the direction and our rationale at the sketchboard stage, higher fidelity Axure prototypes are then typically the next step which can be used to get a better 'feel' for the interface as well as user testing. More on our sketching process here. We also combine Stephen Anderson's (excellent) Mental Notes cards - not just in our own internal idea generation/sketching stage - but also as a tool in the subsequent client sketchboard review sessions to add further weight and clarity to some of the design decisions.

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Great blog post, although we are sketching now our sketches aren't made available outside of our team. I'm excited to try getting stakeholders in front of a sketchboard and I like the idea of using the Mental Notes cards. –  Khal Weir Jun 3 '11 at 11:51
    
Glad you enjoyed it Khal :) It isn't always suitable for every client to get them in at the sketch stage, but when we do, getting their buy-in and understanding early on can often save a lot of heartache and effort further down the line! We will obviously have done our own internal reviews and iterations of the sketches before the client is walked through them. The mental notes cards always prove great talking points too and help give the client more confidence in the decisions being made. –  Tom Jun 3 '11 at 15:53
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I, personally, do not feel Axure prototypes are something for the stakeholder to view. They, like wireframes, are really a tool for the internal UX team.

For what to show clients, I prefer to stay at the extremes of the fidelity spectrum...either paper/pencil sketches on one end, or relatively polished interactive prototypes on the other.

The interactive prototypes don't have to be site or even page level prototypes. It can simply be one component or widget, but the user experience is influenced not only by the interactive aspects, but also the visual aspects and language being used. So It's good to have that in a relatively polished state.

The main hangup I have with Axure as a tool for a stakeholder is that as soon as they see it, they see it 'doing stuff' so in their mind, this is the site and then they immediately jump to the next natural reaction: "Why is it all ugly and black and white" and once they get hung up on that, you've lost them.

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In addition to Gary's excellent answer, I've seen good results from showing mostly sketchy prototypes with one or two more built-out concepts for some part of the system. That helps them to get a sense of overall look, but we didn't waste time and money building it all out prematurely.

(This experience is based on watching interaction designers at my company; I haven't been through this process myself.)

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