Every prototype is a test

Atomic Prototyping Tool

The most basic job of a prototype is to present an idea or solution in a way that lets us test it before we commit to it. Testing prototypes is table stakes. This sounds obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget.

Prototyping in an investment of time and effort, and the payback—the return on effort—is the confidence you gain that your design solutions are going to be effective. To achieve that confidence, you must test your prototypes as hard as you can.

Making the most of your prototyping investment requires making the most of your prototype testing.

Here’s are three simple questions you should ask every time you prototype:

Have I shared this with anyone?

You’ve burned cycles getting to a point where you’re happy with your prototype, great, but has anyone else even seen it?

Testing often fails at the first hurdle: you. If you too casually decide it’s not worth sharing, isn’t ready, or that you don’t want to progress it, you may be missing a trick.

Before you move onto something else, send it to someone for a little feedback – even if it’s a dopey idea.

Tip: Don’t wait till the magic point where you think it’s ready. It’s not a cake. Pick a tool that lets you share your work in progress without friction so your teammates can follow along as your prototype evolves.

What am I testing, specifically?

You can make this as thorough or as casual as you need.

Sometimes you need to map out your assumptions, goals, metrics and proposed tests using a framework such as Lean UX, a great model for defining and running tests.

Other times you might be just playing with an idea. Even then, you should challenge yourself to set a test for your prototype. Write down your tests. What are you hoping will happen when someone uses this?

Tip: Don’t wait and write up tests when you’re ready to test, jot them down upfront. If you haven’t checked out LeanUX this overview is a goodie, it’s a little more intense than just jotting down some notes, but might be well worth your while.

Am I making it better?

If you’re like many of us, you’re iterating your prototype. That might be through small review loops where you try something, preview it yourself and make adjustments.

You might have sent it out for feedback, or better yet, sat with a user while they tested it. But after you incorporated their feedback, did you test it again? How many times around the test-learn-evolve loop have you gone? Can you quickly go again?

Tip: The first feedback isn’t always the best. Each time you refine and test again either your confidence will grow, or you’ll find you’ve still got work to do.

Watching people interact with a prototype is a nail-biting experience. It’s always tempting to interrupt, guide or provide way too much context. But it’s also addictive. Once you get in the habit, you’ll find yourself nagging anyone and everyone to have a quick look and share their reactions.

Want to read more about prototyping? Check out Prototyping isn’t about hitting home runs and Tips for Prototyping Smarter.

Using Atomic? Make sure you know about how to share & get feedback and invite teammates in to collaborate.

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Posted 12 April 2016

Advanced interactive design & prototyping.