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I have a particular view of when to create the first clickable prototype for a flow or feature. But from working with designers and from reading, it seems like most people may not agree with me - or they say they do but then act differently :)

I’m curious what people’s take on this is.

I prefer to make wire-frames into a prototype before the polished designs are even started. My primary reason is that the further along you go, the more people get invested in the latest (and more polished) design version (which is bad).

So when internal people (who have already placed 5 comments around the button labeling in Figma) click through the prototype, they are already invested in thinking that it works (even if it doesn't) and are so familiar with the flow that seeing it, even partially, through the eyes of a new user is impossible.

I'm painting with a very broad brush here but hopefully my general concern is clear. And of course this summary doesn’t factor in stakeholder personalities, design systems, usability testing, etc.

Is there a reason to differ making the prototype, till there are polished designs, that I am missing? Is there an industry standard?

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  • At which stages of design and development does user testing typically occur? Is it throughout the process? Is there some "big picture" user testing before people are analyzing button labeling? Do you have a formalized development process, that everyone sees the value of? Dec 5, 2022 at 21:40

2 Answers 2

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As we say in the UX industry: It depends!

Some reasons to keep a prototype rough:

  • You're working really lean and want feedback on an extremely quick timeline, like daily iterating
  • Your particular team doesn't need hi-fi concepts to develop good design
  • You're getting early usability feedback and might kill the idea before you invest more time in it
  • You're deliberately hiding your brand identity from testing participants so as to not introduce bias based on what they think of your brand
  • You don't want to introduce a false positive bias based on your product "looking so much better" when you're trying to determine if there are any usability problems

Some reasons to use a hi-fi, polished prototype:

  • You're doing market research and want to know how much people would pay to use a product like the one you're showing
  • You're doing a pitch and asking for an investment of millions of dollars
  • You're working with users who struggle with the concept of wireframes - they can't understand that they're representational
  • You're showing a concept to the CEO, who expects to see quality
  • You're doing final testing before handoff to find unforeseen design issues that haven't been caught yet

There are definitely many more reasons, but you get the idea. If there are too many opinions based on internal user feedback, it's definitely time to get some fresh new eyes on it from outside.

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  • Thanks @izquierdo-wants-a-winter-hat for all the thought put into this. As you obviously realized, I'm not looking for (or suggesting) a one-size-fits-all answer but wanted to get some arguments against my tendency. My view is influenced by being in a small start-ups, where developers may need to start before designs are finalized. Where the flow and state are the critical concerns (as oppose to layout or language). So close to bullet one but maybe not exactly. Thx again. Dec 6, 2022 at 22:19
  • You're welcome. Also see the IKEA Effect, which seems to be what you're describing with your team. thedecisionlab.com/biases/ikea-effect
    – Izquierdo
    Dec 6, 2022 at 22:45
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The sooner, and the more often, you get something—anything—understandable in front of target users the better.

Develop what is proven usable and needed.

Of course there are time, budget, and scope restraints, but rather than cut out essential steps of a clearly defined, participant-supported design process, instead reduce the size, cost, and iterations of each step, maintaining the integrity of your design process.

 

Form follows function.

...is self-evident.

What may not be so evident is the extent form communicates function—not enough form and function is not evident.

This is particularly the case when building something from scratch. Few people are able to hear someone's ideas and imagine themselves experiencing it. They need to see a physical approximation that is somewhat interactive. When it comes to human-computer interfaces, walking someone through sketches of interfaces on cards may be a sufficient starting point.

Start with the big picture, build enough to communicate that level, in a sufficient enough form to indicate functionality, and test it with as close to real, outside the organization, users as possible. Distinguish the design process as phases of development from broad to narrow. Clearly define the "resolution" of analysis at each phase, i.e., what elements are currently being designed and developed during this phase. Initial phases of design development don't include analysis of button labels and color choices—too early.

Make adjustments based on test observations and test again until the goals of that phase are solid and met. Continue refining both the goals and the design of each phase based on observable user response, narrowing focus and increasing detail and polish until you have something that makes a big enough difference it will motivate your target market to overcome resistance to change, and start using it.

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  • Thanks @bloodyKnuckles - as I said in my comment below I mainly wanted counter arguments (or confirmation) of my tendency. This is great feedback and what I'm taking away, most of all, is the need for real outside feedback (which always seems to be a pain) but also the value of emulating an actual interface experience early (even as cards). Meaning, I think, that like music, an interface does not (usually) come at you from left to right on a "page" but rather moment by moment. Dec 6, 2022 at 22:29

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