Designing for Humans: The Emergence of the Prototype

Picture the scene. You, the client, want to digitally transform your brand in order to meet the challenges and expectations of a modern world. Fast forward. I, the designer, have just spent considerable time painstakingly designing every aspect of your site. A lot of thinking, craft and consideration have gone into creating something that fulfils your business needs. Meanwhile you’ve been waiting patiently to see how the design looks and whether it will meet your requirements.

Now comes the next challenge. How do I present this design in a way that gives you confidence in the decisions I’ve made? A long, lo-fi PDF document? This has been the long established way to present designs, but is it still relevant? In the past, how we presented designs was informed more by technical limitations than by what’s best. However, these limitations are no more.

Designing for humans
Thanks to advances in technology, the way users interact with websites and how we design those websites has evolved. User experience has come to the fore and there’s an increasing focus on journeys, interactions and responsive design. In short, it’s a lot more human. 

As a result, design is rarely about a singular image or static element anymore. Though these are important aspects and shouldn’t be neglected, individual details are now usually addressed as a single part of the wider experience – and for good reason. Focusing on user journeys as opposed to isolated designs helps us understand the user experience and solve complex user interaction problems. Given this knowledge, we need to rethink how we communicate these designs and concepts. Static PDF presentations just won’t cut it anymore.

Enter the rapid prototype
As a designer, I don’t want clients to just see my design; I want them to experience it as if they were the end audience. I want to provide a sense of reality and show how users would interact with the end product. For this, I need a rapid prototype. 

Rapid prototyping tools allow us to demonstrate key user journeys in a fast, iterative way. They also add that extra layer - the transitions, animations and little details that make a design great and an experience exceptional. In essence, they’re the digital design equivalent of a storyboard that’s reactive to user interactions. Designers can now create fully interactive prototypes of websites, mobile apps and other digital products using tools such as InVision, Proto.io and Axure. Even Adobe has recognised this shift with its recent release of Experience Design CC

How it works
Lets look at InVision as an example. This prototyping tool now forms an integral part of our studio’s day-to-day design work. In fact, we regularly present prototypes to our clients by sharing links to our InVision projects. Our clients can even download designs onto their smartphones so they can interact with it in context and see what it would look like as a live mobile site. They can also share comments directly onto the design helping to effectively collaborate and communicate amends and changes.

Just to be clear, InVision isn’t the new home of design. It’s the home of the experience. It’s where designs are stitched together to demonstrate journeys. It’s there to enhance our work rather than replace what exists. InVision has even developed integrations with existing design products such as Photoshop (further enhancing the artboard functionality) and Sketch to seamlessly establish prototyping as the next step of the design process. 

The aftermath
As a designer, I now consider prototyping an integral part of the design process, allowing me to present fully designed experiences. For you, my client, prototypes allow you to experience key user journeys for yourself. 

While prototyping can require a little extra time up front, the benefits of this approach are definitely worth the effort. After all, user behaviour and design will only continue to evolve, so it’s important that we embrace these opportunities to adapt our processes and create great user experiences.