What to Know about App Prototypes

There is a lot to know if you’re taking on an app development project as an individual entrepreneur, as a startup or as an extension of an existing business. The process to develop an app can be one that’s complex, and it starts with the initial concept and market research. Then the process once the app development is finished moves into mobile marketing to reach users and introduce the platform.

Somewhere in that continuum, there is also the need for an app prototype. An app prototype is one of the most important parts of the development process, yet it’s often overlooked, or its importance is underestimated.

The following are some essential things to know about app prototypes including what they are, and why they’re valuable.

What is a Prototype?

An app prototype, in theory, is simple—it’s a simulation of what your finished app product will be. It’s like a mockup, and the idea behind a prototype is to see how well your app will ultimately flow and whether or not it will have a sense of consistency.

Prototypes are good for testing the usability and the general user experience that the app is likely to deliver.

Prototypes can be helpful to have before any code is written, and they can help you understand if you might need to take a different direction in one area of your app, or for the entire thing.

However, a prototype isn’t the same thing as a finished-product app. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t even have to be a fully accurate representation of what the final look and aesthetic of the app will be.

One of the most important things to understand what a prototype is and what it isn’t is the distinction between a prototype and something like a wireframe or a mockup that’s only visual. Key to a prototype is the ability to demonstrate the user experience, and static representations may not fully be able to do this.

Creating Prototypes

Typically you will work with a developer or designer to create an app prototype. The developer should be able to give you something that’s going to simulate flow, and it’s usually a click-through experience.

The process may begin with something as simple as pencil-and-paper sketches, although again, it needs to demonstrate the user experience in a logical way.

Some developers may even stick with paper prototypes as the rendering they use to show the flow through the app.

If you don’t work with a developer or designer, some platforms let you create prototypes. While you may not need a lot of experience to work with these platforms, they may not be sufficient if you’re not well-versed in principles of effective user experience. That’s one way that a developer is likely going to have an advantage when it comes to the creation of prototypes.

What to Expect with Prototyping

During the phase where you’re introducing a prototype, there are some objectives to keep in mind. You want to think of this as part of the idea validation phase of the development process.

It’s a good time to start some user testing if possible. This will help you introduce necessary changes in terms of user experience before you get further down the road. You shouldn’t see your prototype as something set in stone—in fact, it should be quite the opposite.

Use this as a time when you’re receptive to where improvements could be made, as well as additions.

This is also a time of problem-solving. If you can identify potential problems and implement solutions during this time, you’re going to save time and money ultimately. It’s much better to see possible problems and remedy them before you get further into development.

Involving Stakeholders

From the developer standpoint, the prototype is a time when the client is going to start being heavily involved. This is a great time for the flow of ideas to take place between the client and the developer.

If other key stakeholders are going to be involved in the process, it’s a good time to bring them in as well. This can be a time to look at large-concept ideas, such as organizational objectives and start determining specific ways the app is going to align with those objectives.

If you’re looking for investment funding for your project, the stakeholders that you get involved at this time are likely to be potential investors. This is a good time to show them something fairly tangible and get them excited about being part of the project.

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