Prototyping Your App Idea: Why You Should and How to Do it

May 18, 2017

“Why prototype? Can’t I just develop my app in one shot? I know exactly what features I want to include.”

This mindset is a product of you making an app for yourself, not your users. Prioritizing your potential users with a prototyping phase is arguably the most important step you should take before jumping into full-fledged development.

Alexander Cowan entrepreneurship and innovation teacher said:

“In the early phases of a big change (or new product), push yourself to diverge, developing multiple possible directions and completing preliminary testing on your favorites. The successful innovator is also a good economist and the economy of broad prototyping in the early phases is clear.”

 

 

Prototyping gives you collateral to conduct user testing so you can iterate on your app before you invest any significant resources on creating it. Iterating on your app while it is still flexible will save you a lot of time and money.

At App Partner, we’ve made over 200 mobile apps, and every project has started with a prototype phase. Below we’ve outlined the key elements of our process, and how you can apply it to your app.

Know Your Market

Target Audience

Plan on talking directly to your target customers to learn about how your app can fit into the context of their lives. By doing this, you’ll find out what features or functionality of your app they would love, and what they could go without.

Try answering these four questions:

  • What do you need or want to improve when it comes to interacting with current or potential customers?
  • What are your customers asking for that mobile might be able to deliver better and faster?
  • Are there any internal pain points or inefficiencies that could be alleviated or resolved with a mobile app?
  • Is there anywhere in your funnel where a mobile component or developing mobile trend would speed or improve conversion?
User Personas

A user persona is a way to represent the goals and behavior of your target users.

These personas can be created during customer interviews or pure observation. The key to a great, accurate user personas is to find patterns or recurring themes in your subject’s behaviors, and then group those types of people together. These personas will serve as a real hypothetical person you can use for researching, prototyping, and product development.

Source: Xtensio

With this information, you’ll be able to focus on one specific type of person who has shown a need/want for your product, instead of blindly targeting people you “think” are a good fit. Follow this formula when creating your personas:

“As a [persona], I want to [do something] so that I can [realize a reward]”

Personas are a crucial part of prototyping because it allows you to take the focus off of your ideas, and instead, puts the center of attention on what users want.

Competitors

What does your competitive landscape look like? It’s important to keep tabs on what the competition is doing and how they stack up against your app. You can use that information to your advantage by figuring out ways to make your app better than the rest. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • What is the competition currently doing that you can do better?
  • Do they lack in a certain area you can excel in?
  • What are reviews saying about the UX?
  • Do people dislike a certain feature? Do they like a feature that you know you can improve?

You can even go a step further and show the app to people in your target audience and ask them for their feedback. You can do this in your spare time, on the go, and during customer interviews.

What to Prototype

After you’ve created all of your real-life user personas, you can move on to figuring out what features and functionality to prototype.

You can find yourself entrenched in the process of making your prototype perfect, but don’t fall into that hole. You shouldn’t spend too much time on the small details because it does not need to look like the final product. The point of prototyping is to:

  • Be able to conduct better user testing
  • Flesh out your ideas into something tangible
  • Create collateral for explaining the concept to investors

Your goal should be to create focused and linear streamlined functionality. Whatever your prototype looks like at the end of this process will not be the final version of your app.

Start with the core functionality and nothing extra. This means building features for only the most important things people are doing.

User Stories

The next step is selecting what features to prioritize. That’s where user stories come in.

A standard process used to create these user stories is by starting with “epics” (higher level stories) about what users need to do in your app. From there, you can drill down into the specifics of how these tasks can be accomplished.

source: Winnipeg Agilist

What is the main user flows? How can you make them more concise and effective? Your goal should be to prototype the user’s tasks from point A straight to point B. No bells and whistles, just the essentials.

Tip: Consider utilizing Trello to organize all of your user stories.

How to Create an Interactive Prototype

Interactive prototypes showcase just enough branding and functionality to give users a realistic experience! You can use this prototype to conduct better user testing before touching a single line of code. It also comes in handy if you are pitching to investors and want to show them how the app works.

You can approach prototyping in two ways. You can build one yourself with an online tool such as Proto.io, or you can work with an established mobile agency.

Proto.io

This tool will allow you to create fully interactive prototypes that look and work like the app you’re envisioning. You can design your app’s UI, create user flows, and even include gestures and transitions. They also have an integration with usertesting.com so you can get real responses from people and screen recordings of people that use your prototype.

Enterprises such as Disney, Amazon, and Paypal are some of their biggest clients, but the platform is seamless to use and readily available to anyone who needs to use it!

App Development Agency

Working with a development agency during your prototyping phase is a fast and efficient early stage step every serious startup should think about for two reasons. (1) Due to their experience, they can create a higher quality prototype that doesn’t need to change so much before development. And (2) if they do the development after prototyping they will be able to pick the project up where they left off, this decreases the overall cost of development.

Conclusion

Validating your concept with a prototype can save time, effort and money, and is a proven way to improve the odds of your success.

Want to dive deeper into prototyping? Download the eBook “7 Ways a Prototype Can Save You Time and Money.”

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