Design prototyping: An introduction

Design prototyping: An introduction

Let’s say you have an amazing idea for a product; you might be a founder driving some new B2B software to market, or you could be a brand manager with a fantastic idea for a revolutionary new app. Whatever the case may be, you probably have a really clear picture of how you want your design to look, function, and feel. But how do you demonstrate this practically and bring your design to life? Prototyping. That’s how.

Prototyping is a crucial stage of the design process, and an integral step for ensuring that your finished product accurately aligns with the needs of your target market. Loosely defined, the term prototype describes the process of converting an idea into a physical, testable design which can then be shared with team members, test audiences, or stakeholders to assess suitability. Within the context of digital design, however, the term prototype tends to be a little more nuanced.

So, what exactly is digital design prototyping? What are the different kinds of prototypes? And how does a design prototype fit alongside both wireframes and mockups within the wider design process? We explain all in our guide to design prototyping.

What is a prototype in design?

Prototype defined: A prototype is a product design build aimed at demonstrating the form and functionality of a final product. Prototypes include all the features and interactivity that will be included in the final product and, depending on the fidelity of the prototype, may also include all the visual elements of the final design including the coloring, copy, and branding. Prototyping is an iterative process which allows for feedback and improvements in a cyclical fashion. This helps those involved in the design process to gradually refine ideas and move the design closer to its final form.

example of a digital app prototype
Collaborative prototyping in Uizard

Put plainly, a prototype is a model of how a design or product will look and function in practical terms. The prototyping process in a general context allows project leads to build iterations of a product for testing and feedback. Digital prototypes for apps or webpages on the other hand have further considerations around user journey and user experience, and so typically include multi-layer functionality to demonstrate multiple user journey considerations at once.

Within the context of digital design, particularly app or web design, it’s useful to make a distinction between wireframes, mockups, and prototypes (you’ll often hear these terms used interchangeably, typically by those not fully familiar with them).

As discussed in our beginner’s guide to wireframing, a wireframe is a schematic or blueprint of an app or web page, whereas a mockup demonstrates the same structure but also includes content enrichments to give the viewer a flavor of how the finished product might look and feel. Conversely, a prototype is a build designed to demonstrate how a product will actually function. It allows stakeholders to test user journeys and interactions, and build a general understanding of how the finished product will work.

What are the different kinds of prototype?

You might think of prototypes as being fully polished, functional builds of your prospective product and, although high fidelity prototypes such as this are often the end goal for the prototyping process, lower fidelity prototypes are also deployed at other stages of the design to allow for more rapid testing. As discussed in our guide to wireflows, even basic wireframes can be advanced into low-fidelity prototypes to speed up testing and feedback.

So, what are the different kinds of digital prototype? From a design perspective, we can roughly split prototypes into low fidelity prototypes, mid-fidelity prototypes, and high fidelity prototypes.

What is a low fidelity prototype?

Historically, low fidelity prototypes have been paper-based however, with the recent movement of prototyping software, low fidelity prototypes can now exist in digital form, and typically take the appearance of rudimentary, detail-sparse wireframes, linked together with priority interactions only (a low fidelity prototype built within prototyping software will likely just demonstrate basic page linking).

low-fidelity mobile app prototype
A low fidelity mobile app prototype in Uizard

What is a medium fidelity prototype?

A medium fidelity prototype typically includes improved functionality compared to a low fidelity prototype and will also include some level of aesthetic detailing to further demonstrate the general feel of the design. Mid fidelity prototypes will contain all the web or app pages required for the final build, with a clear demonstration of the core clickable areas, what they do, and how a user might interact with them.

mid-fidelity web app prototype
A mid-fidelity web app prototype in Uizard

What is a high fidelity prototype?

A high fidelity prototype is as close as possible to the final design. In the context of app and web design, a high fidelity prototype should be fully functional and should also include all the visual elements of the final product to demonstrate the entire scope of the design.

low fidelity app design to high fidelity
Transform low fidelity prototypes/wireframes to high fidelity with the click of a button in Uizard

Why is prototyping so important?

Prototyping is an integral part of the design process. Not only does it allow designers to demonstrate the functionality and form of a design, but it can also be carried out rapidly to nurture a culture of feedback and improvement early in the design process. One of the core issues of design absent of regular prototyping is a lack of insight into how things will work practically when the final product is built.

Essentially, the benefits of comprehensive prototyping can be huge, not only for communication and time saving but also for ensuring that the end product reflects the core aims of the design. Without clear, concise, collaborative iteration, it can be easy for product to market fit to get lost along the way. Prototyping also ensures the following:

• Problems are solved within the context of the wider design
• User experience considerations are prioritized alongside aesthetic elements
• User journey testing can be carried out in conjunction with build refinement
• Ideas are visualized more rapidly, allowing faster decisions on inclusions and exclusions
• Stakeholder management is supported through collaborative assessment and feedback
• Product message isn’t lost through long and laborious design runs

Although the benefits of prototyping are clear, the next issue you might find yourself facing is how to make your prototype happen. This is where user-friendly and collaborative prototyping tools comes in.

How to make a prototype with Uizard

Uizard makes prototyping quicker and easier than ever before. Instead of waiting for your design team to build out a prototype based on a brief, you can build it out yourself in Uizard’s user-friendly interface. Whether you have a hand-drawn wireframe that you need to upload using Uizard’s Design Assistant, or you have created a design using one of our predefined design templates, transforming your design into a functional prototype has never been easier.

Ready to give Uizard a whirl? You can sign up for free and begin your journey to prototype master immediately. Got more questions when it comes to all things design? Check out the official Uizard blog now.