When you think of the word prototype, you probably think of a sample or preliminary version of a new product. The same is true for a website. A website prototype is an interactive demo of a new project that has yet to be opened to the public.
Website prototypes are often used to gather feedback from stakeholders early in the project lifecycle before going into final development. While there are many different platforms like Keynote, Powerpoint or any of these different online tools with which you can create an interactive prototype, the advantages and disadvantages must be considered.
- Demonstrate without building. Building sites take time, planning and money. Since site interactions must be tailored to fit each specific client, it’s helpful to be able to try out different functions and styles to ensure it’s on-brand. In the age of prefab templates, customers are used to getting all-in-one solutions, and they often don’t realize that a site can be specifically designed with them in mind. This helps open up a new world of possibilities.
- Instant feedback. There’s nothing worse than a client saying after launch, “I wish it could do _____.” What is important to the client? It’s our job to provide great work, but all clients want to feel special and be heard. The ability to present a prototype to a client and be able to hear their likes, dislikes and concerns on the spot is priceless.
- Quick turnaround. Prototypes allow for advanced interactions to be mocked up quickly. Don’t like something that took 15 minutes to prototype? Scrap it and try again for another 15 minutes. Don’t like something that took 15 hours to build? It’s probably not cost-effective to rebuild. Advanced interactions often get tabled until the end, but by then, the time for review is long gone.
- Interactive advantage. These interactions are best accomplished through a medium that’s representative of the user environment. Sure, a client can look at still versions of their product all day, but that really doesn’t matter. Would you buy a car you only saw an image of? Giving the site an early test drive allows the user to be more invested in the process, and a client truly doesn’t know how they feel about a site until they interact with it.
This all sounds great, so what’s the catch? There has to be one, right? Well, there are just a few:
- Training. You’ll need to learn whatever prototyping method fits best for your company and your client. There could be a little bit of a learning curve, but there are lots of resources accompanied with each desired program to help you along the way.
- Cost. Just as there will be a cost associated with the actual product itself, the use of collaborative software for prototyping will only add to that overall number.
- Time. With money and expectations on the line, you’ll need to carefully plan the project before building, which takes more time. The caveat is, though, that if you plan properly, time will be saved further down the line because of having clear directives and limited guesswork—it’s a vicious cycle that could be more positive than negative.
Web prototypes are no more than interactive demos in the early stages of the project lifecycle. They are used to get instant feedback that will limit surprises or revisions by the client. Yes, a good site can be created without a prototype, but going into a project with assumptions and no clear interactive directives is a setup for failure. The work will get done; whether it’s on the frontend or the backend is up to you. The question is, when was the last time you committed to something without testing out your assumptions first?