Seeing is believing
Prototyping is all about making something that someone can experience, understand and respond to. Since it’s really difficult for people to imagine something when it is not in a real context or to evaluate a design without using it, we like to make stuff so it can be experienced for real.
High fidelity prototypes are very important since they give the possibility to test more complex interactions-, sequences and animation-principles and generate a more accurate sense of how the product/service/interface will work and perform in real life.
Sketching, wireframes and mock-ups have their place too, but nothing convinces like a running prototype.
By making a concept prototype that people can test we can get a sense of the potential of an idea at an early stage. We’re saving resources like time and money by not building the real thing, but still gain valuable insights from the users. If you’re interested in reading more about the benefits of prototyping I can recommend this post by Marty Cagan.
Hi-fi prototyping also have it’s risks: Sometimes people think it’s the final product, ready for delivery.
Personalized and realistic
Especially when testing out novel concepts, it is important to make experience relevant to the individuals that are going to respond to it. A prototype using generic placeholder content will often not create a realistic enough experience for the test respondents, thus affecting the concept evaluation in a negative way. Like using generic user names instead of peoples actual names. If you have to use placeholder data make sure the content feels realistic.
Some quick tips on how I go about doing just that:
1. Use existing data sources
Customize your prototypes by using for example Facebook Connect to achieve a more personalized experience.
2. Personalise content
Prepare the prototype with customized material. We sometimes make participants send in personal information in a pre-study, which we then use in prototypes.
3. Suspension of disbelief
Even though the respondents might know it’s not a fully functional product, try to convince them of the opposite by making an experience that is real enough to believe in, at least for a little while. One simple way to do this is to make Wizard of Oz-prototypes, where you have a human behind the curtains who makes things happen. Perhaps in combination with a simple back-end using PHP and MySql to support dynamic functionality, action history and user tracking.
photo (cc) by yui.kubo, found on flickr