Today’s article is a guest post from Joe Downs, UX Copywriter at Justinmind. Enjoy!
The role prototyping and testing plays in app and web development for small teams can’t be overstated. It shows us which designs work best and serves as a useful handoff for developers. More importantly, it also helps our potential users tell us what’s working and what isn’t.
For small teams that have limited capacity—and are most impacted by rework—prototyping and testing before building is critical.
User testing prototypes help us see things from the user’s perspective, which is what we’re really interested in since that’s what will ultimately guarantee a product’s success. Testing prototypes with real people from your target audience is something that should be an essential part of your design process. The good news is that even small teams can carry out regular user testing to get that vital feedback.
Before we dig into why you should regularly test prototypes early—and how smaller teams can do it—let’s review what prototypes are, and why they’re such an important step in your development process.
What are prototypes?
A prototype is essentially a replica of the end product with limited functionality. They help you:
- Test the design and features of a product before they’re actually built
- Obtain management and stakeholder buy-in
- Serve as a blueprint to developers
- Achieve a minimum viable product (MVP) to test on potential users
- Re-iterate on a current design
- Test updates to existing products
For startups or small teams, prototyping is a vital part of app and web development—and it doesn’t have to be costly or time-consuming. Anything can be tested with your target audience, including sketches, concepts, images and more.
Why you should test prototypes
When we talk about testing prototypes, we mean testing them on potential users and there’s a clear reason for this.
The best way to design products is with a user-centric approach, which is at the heart of what we understand as UX design. Designing with a user-centric approach means that product teams design apps or websites around the user and not their idea of who they think they ought to be.
The benefit of testing prototypes early and often
Testing prototypes in advance can help save time in the long run. It helps prevent the design team from making crucial usability errors early on that, if discovered further down the line, would be a lot more expensive to correct.
Even when we’ve got a clear vision of what our user needs from the start, that doesn’t mean we’re good to go without even a whisper from them. Each product design sprint should revolve around the design and testing of a feature, or group of features—each of which we need to test on our users before we move on. Here’s why:
- One bad feature can be enough to turn potential users away
- Regular testing helps avoid expensive and time-consuming rework and guesswork
A truly user-centric app or website can only be achieved through constant iteration on user feedback. In this way, a small product team can funnel resources into a product that works. The design team can design a product according to the customer feedback, and arrive at an MVP much quicker.
It also speeds up the time taken from ideation to developer-handoff. At this stage, you really do want to minimize the amount of rework because by then errors start getting very costly.
How regular testing benefits small teams
Frequently testing prototypes has many benefits for small teams since they have the advantage of improved collaboration. Because fewer people are involved, and they tend to work in close proximity, communication becomes a lot easier.
Even if members of a product team don’t work in the same office, or work in different time zones, it’s usually easier to coordinate regular meetings with a smaller product-design team. Better communication makes it easier to get everyone on board with user feedback and to iterate using that feedback by incorporating it into the prototype’s improvements.
How to test your prototypes
Identify your target audience
It’s important to test your prototypes with the types of people that will be using the finished product. There are many ways to source your target audience, from surveys to social media to user personas or even user research platforms that can source people based on your required demographics.
Meet with them in real life
Face-to-face interaction is great, but that’s not usually convenient or cost-effective. A lower-cost, more convenient option is remote testing. Have your test participants test out your prototype on their own, or schedule a video interview to walk them through it. If you combine your prototyping tool of choice with your user testing tool, such as Justinmind and UserTesting, real-time feedback can be gathered quickly to inform your iteration of improvements.
Watch and listen to how test participants interact with your prototype. Are they using it the way that you expected? Are they creating workarounds to handle a feature that isn’t working optimally? Paying close attention to how users naturally use your prototype may help you identify a need they have that they didn’t even know existed.
Regularly testing your prototypes is a no-brainer
It stands to reason that not just creating a prototype but testing it regularly, leads to success and is something that even small product teams can achieve. Regularly testing your prototypes will ensure that your final product does the job it set out to do in the first place: to make the user’s life a little easier.
An app or website that’s well-designed doesn’t need to be expensive—we discovered we can save time and money by regularly testing our prototypes on our users. One thing to always keep in mind is that the user is the product.