Prototyping and UX Design: Building Prototypes for Non-Designers

Dave Broschinsky / Friday, November 18, 2016

In Part 2 of the Prototyping and UX Design series, Dave Broschinsky of LANDESK Software explores how prototyping helps even non-designers contribute to better product development

By Dave Broschinsky, UX Principal at LANDESK Software

Note: Dave Broschinsky talks more about UX prototyping in our new podcast: The Storyboard: Conversations About UX (Download | iTunes | RSS | Google Play | Stitcher | Soundcloud). It’s a substantive conversation with a lot of insights from this UX expert with decades of experience. Give it a listen.

Prototyping isn’t just for designers. In one sense, that’s obvious; designers use prototypes to communicate their ideas more clearly with their colleagues and customers who are not designers. A lot of non-designers have a major impact on software products at every stage of development — project managers, executives, IT decision-makers, programmers, sales and service teams, and of course end users; the list goes on. I think everyone on that list can benefit from learning some fundamentals of prototyping, whether they go on to add it to their own toolkit or just work with a better understanding of how prototypes fit into the software development process.

In my first post in this series, I talked about why it’s important to have empathy for the customer. I think it’s essential to have empathy for everyone involved in product development, from the designer who first roughs out a new concept to the user who makes one last click before installing upgrades to the software. Whether you’re creating the next big product, approving its purchase, or simply using it in your job, you can make the greatest difference if you have an idea of why: why this feature was created, why this iteration took a week to update and push back out, why the users are clicking on a part of the screen that isn’t a clickable button or link.

Prototyping helps turn ideas and guesswork into something more tangible. Over more than 20 years of working in UX, I’ve watched hundreds of customers as they work with software or prototypes in their workplace or at user conferences. If all I did was interview them away from their daily work, I’d only have part of the picture. I wouldn’t see how they move the mouse or a finger to click around the screen, or watch their brows furrow when the software does something they weren’t expecting, or hear them sigh in frustration when a process takes longer than they want it to. Those reactions, those expressions of need or annoyance (or, sometimes, satisfaction when things go right), give me an immense amount of information that I can bring back to our team so we can create better products.

With prototypes, I can get those real-time reactions before we’ve spent programming hours and have created a final product. I can keep our development team from wasting their time building features and functionality that must be changed because users don’t experience them the way the designers thought they would.

If you can teach me more by working with the product than by telling me about the product, imagine just how much you can teach me by taking a stab at creating the product yourself — or at least a simulation or a part of it. I do my best thinking by sketching, and can often make something clearer if I draw out a diagram than if I try to describe it in words. If paper and pen are the first step, arranging sticky notes on a board or folding paper into the shape of an object is the next level of that kind of visual brainstorming.

Prototyping tools like Indigo Studio can then help you put together an interactive model of an app or a function within an app, and you don’t have to know anything about coding or visual design to use it to show your ideas. Even if your prototyped idea doesn’t look perfect, the process of creating it will help you better understand and explain what you want the final product to do, and how it should look. And you can show it to your colleagues or customers to get their reactions as well.

As designers, we sometimes get caught up in “design thinking” — being so immersed in the way we create things that we lose sight of how they might be experienced by others who don’t think the same way we do. Fortunately, review sessions, drafting, feedback, and (of course) working with programmers, all offer strong corrections to any narrow pathways we may design ourselves into.

One of the most important things our design team does is get the perspective of non-designers, and I think we owe it to our customers and decision-makers to point them to the resources, such as prototyping, that can help them more clearly communicate their needs and wishes so that we can turn those insights into the right products.

Dave Broschinsky is UX Principal at LANDESK Software, and is the Founder of Usable Patterns (www.usablepatterns.net), a usability consultancy for over 15 years. He has more than 20 years of technical and design experience in the software industry, working across disciplines to help engineers and designers collaborate to ship great products.