Whatever type of product you’re building, prototyping can be a extremely useful part of the product development process. This is especially true in the fast moving and ever evolving landscape of mobile app development. Without taking your design for “app for X”  through multiple stages and getting feedback on those iterations, it really doesn’t stand a chance of being the best mobile app it could be.

First and foremost, let’s establish that mobile app prototypes are best created and utilized after you’ve already been through the simple wireframes and mockups stages. Wireframes and mockups are absolutely critical in the very early stages of an app design project, but after that, building a functional and testable prototype is the best next step. 

Prototypes provide excellent opportunities to learn from your potential or existing users, and you can turn what you learn into highly actionable intelligence. The feedback you get can help the whole team, designers and developers alike, to work towards creating a truly outstanding finished product. Creating and testing highly functional prototypes for your mobile app is one of the most effective and efficient ways to find the formula for delighting your users.

When it comes to prototyping mobile apps, some best practices and tested tactics can help you to deliver great prototypes and get quality feedback.

Check out our list of seven best practices for mobile app prototyping:

Think About What You Are Designing For

The difference between designing for a desktop website, a smartphone, or a tablet can be extreme. The places and situations where people use each type of device are also unique. Be sure to consider not only the different device screen sizes but also the different contexts of use, different inputs and more. Is this app intended to be used at home, or while on the go? Held vertically or horizontally? Make sure to ask all these questions up front. Since we’re focused on mobile apps here, make sure when you are designing a mobile app prototype that it is a workable, responsive and adaptive prototype that is geared toward the target mobile device first (consider iOS and Android design differences as well.) If you are considering building a version of your app for the web also, then we suggest you test that separately. It’s much better to stay focused.

Use Details Sparingly

Your app will be visually stunning in the end but the prototype can really be pretty bare bones. Resist your instinct to design a unique color scheme, add in fancy visuals and typography, and so on in this initial version. They don’t affect the functionality of the app and that is what you are testing, after all. Think of your app in terms of the minimum essentials it needs to just work. Once those are in place, you can explore and have fun with bringing in all the fun design details you’re been cooking up. (When you do, be sure to avoid these 5 major mobile UX mistakes.)

Get Real Feedback Throughout the Process

Your prototype won’t improve without specific use-case feedback. The best way to get this is to ask people to perform certain tasks on your app and watch them go through the process. Observe any hiccups they encounter, how long each step/page took, etc. Try to find out when or if there is a point when users give up or get frustrated – those are the areas you need to focus on improving in the prototype. Make sure before you start that you have a clear process for documenting, analyzing and sharing this user feedback – you’ll be glad you did this later.

Make It Quick

Remember: a prototype is not the finished product. It’s the difference between an architectural sketch of a house and the house itself. It doesn’t have to be perfect, nor should it be. The purpose of a prototype is to help you gain understanding about the product and how it should function. That’s why it’s always best to make a prototype quickly and send it off for feedback as soon as it’s in a place where others can understand it. Stick to “good enough” and focus on getting more feedback.

Ditch the Placeholders

We’ve found that it’s always best to use real content in prototypes. Placeholder text and graphics won’t give you, or your users, a sense of how the layout is going to look or how the content will come across. Copy is a hugely important part of your mobile app and it will help guide your early users through the experience. You can always tweak the exact copy and make stylistic choices later, again, remember that with prototyping good enough is great. Where possible try to include as much of the actual content as you can and forego the “Lorem Ipsums” in the prototype. This will pay dividends in the quality of the feedback you get from users.

Understand Your Users

Ask yourself: what do you know about who is going to be using the app? How many different types of users are there? What do they want from the app? If you understand what users are trying to get out of it, you can design the prototype around those functions. It helps you see how a user will navigate the app and what pain points they might have – so you can avoid them in the end. This can increase the user experience exponentially. User testing isn’t easy though and so be prepared to learn and improve as you go. For more on overcoming user testing challenges, check out this post.

Use Real Devices to Test

Clearly, mobile devices are used much differently than desktop computers, so even using mobile simulators on laptops or desktops doesn’t really do the trick. You have to consider the way people handle a mobile phone and how that is going to affect their interaction with your app. That’s why it’s important to test your prototypes on real devices so you can gauge what the actual experience will be like. This is why we’ve recently added a new mobile device testing feature to Dropsource which allows you to send and install your mobile app directly on a device through a link.

 

Prototyping is an incredibly efficient and effective way to achieve the best results when building a mobile app. Everyone from mobile app designers and developers to startup entrepreneurs can benefit from keeping these best practices in mind, turning your hard work into an impressive mobile application, and ultimately, delighted users.