January 12, 2022

Design Prototypes: What are they?

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In a nutshell

Design Prototypes are a useful tool in the UI/UX realm, creating a static product that can improve user-testing and the overall feel of your app immensely. These prototypes are a series of separate screens that have been designed and linked together to simulate what a developed application will look and feel like. You can scroll, swipe and tap the buttons to take you to the correct screen.

How is this different from a developed app?

Design prototypes are still many steps away from the final product in terms of functionality, as all the text, images and other elements are static, meaning that they are not influenced by the user’s actions and will not change. Developed apps are the apps that you download from the App Store or Google Play Store, fully functional and include all the features intended by the creator. For this reason, developed apps take longer to finish as they are all coded from scratch, contrary to the visual editing done in design prototypes.

Is the Design Prototype important? Can I skip this stage?

Design prototypes are put in place to avoid issues in the development stage from both a design and functionality standpoint. As prototypes are much easier to tweak and change, the majority of user-testing and high-level design changes will be made in this stage. Although the UI may look good and function well in our heads, it is not until the prototyping stage that we can get a realistic feel for what this app is going to be. For example, spacing and navigation can be aspects of an app design that is difficult to properly polish without a realistic product, requiring a prototype in order to avoid headaches in the development stage.

Can I use a design prototype to pitch my idea to investors?

Definitely! Design prototypes are a great way to show off your app's potential before starting the development stage. Prototypes are made to look like the real thing, without having the technical functionality to serve its purpose. When pitching to investors, it is much easier to show than tell, so having a well designed product that can visually explain your idea will be a huge help, and will show that you have already taken the first step into making your idea a reality.

What are the limitations?

Across the most popular prototyping tools available, there are some common limitations (and workarounds) when designing an app prototype. For example, if your app needs to use the device's camera, the prototyping software cannot display a ‘live’ camera from your device. However, a common workaround is to ‘recreate’ the device's native camera UI and place a contextual image in the frame, creating a simulated version of this feature that will still allow you to present your idea effectively.

How do I get the prototype? Do I have to download it from somewhere?

Once the design prototype is ready to be shared with you and your testing team (this can be anyone), a URL can then be shared with you that you can open on any browser, desktop or mobile to test out how the app is looking. You can also leave comments on each screen, requesting some changes or leaving any other notes you might want the designer to see. This link can then be updated by the designer without needing a new link, just hit refresh.

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