Show, Don’t Tell

Why Prototyping Works

Quinn Simpson | Originally published April 19, 2013


The most beautiful wireframe in the world or a bare-bones prototype? Citizen’s Quinn Simpson opts for the latter. Every single time. Below, he does a little show-and-tell about how prototyping is refining the way we work.

At Citizen, we’ve been re-thinking the way we develop early iterations of UX designs. In the past, we’ve created comprehensive wireframes in InDesign, which are meticulously imagined and beautifully produced, but only manage to describe the way a fully functional version would behave. That emphasis on telling, rather than showing, got us thinking about how prototyping could help improve this process.

The Limitations of Wireframes

With wireframed UX documentation, there’s only so much a user can glean, since it ignores contextual factors such as time, place, user, and device. With no way of testing or replicating the intended experience, customer and user feedback is very limited. But prototypes — which are typically dynamic and include motion — give users a real taste of the interaction by letting them touch it and test its limits. With a concrete experience to react to, users can provide similarly concrete feedback, so that designers know what’s working and what’s not at the outset of a project. Put another way, we can validate our good ideas and scrap the bad ones much sooner in the process.

Finding the Right Prototyping Tools

As a result, we’ve been working to integrate prototypes into our current wireframe style, to clearly show and tell our clients our recommended interactions. We’ve trialed a range of prototyping tools — including UXPIN, Axure, POP, Flash, Unity, Adobe Edge Animate, Invision, and others — to find which ones fit best in our current workflow. Through that research, we’ve learned there isn’t a perfect tool out there and there may never be; since variables such as client, project type, and the stage of development will determine which tool is right for the job.

Since we haven’t found a tool that perfectly balances our need to showcase interactivity, while maintaining our rigorous visual standards, we’ve been left wondering what the ideal solution is. Most of us are not developers, so creating prototypes with HTML5 is hardly practical. The solution may turn out to be building a tool that’s specifically designed for our needs. Still, the overall value of prototyping is abundantly clear. It has improved our processes so significantly that, once armed with the right library and toolset, we can build prototypes that align with our projects’ needs — and our client’s expectations.

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