What is an interactive prototype
Design stage involves plenty of activities and has various artefacts as a result of these activities. One of them is an interactive prototype. Also called a clickthrough prototype, this artefact has some significant distinctions from other deliverables provided by UX/UI designers.
So what is a prototype? Basically, it is a simulation of the final product. Please pay attention to the word “simulation”. A prototype doesn’t look like the final product. It can be of low or high fidelity and, of course, doesn’t have to be pixel perfect.
The reason why prototypes are so useful is a high degree of interactivity. While wireframes and mockups are static and can give us only an idea of what the product will look like, a clickthrough prototype is a great way to understand how the product will work and feel.
Benefits of interactive prototypes
A prototyping approach has a number of significant advantages over wireframes or other static deliverables.
An idea has no value until it can be communicated
Any development process involves several parties of stakeholders. There is always a client, developer, designer, management and, of course, end-user. Some aspects of the design can’t be adequately explained by static artefacts. The risk of miscommunication is enormous. A prototype is a good way to fill communication gaps between these parties.
First of all, a clickthrough prototype simplifies reaching one of the most important milestones of any project – meeting the customer’s expectations. On the other hand, it can reduce misinterpretations and increase understanding between developers and designers.
The fact about creating a new product is that a designer usually doesn’t have a complete understanding of the final look and feel of a product. Ideas are generated throughout the process. When a designer is able to launch experiments and try different approaches, they can make unexpected discoveries and generate brilliant ideas. Also, the possibility of putting yourself in the user’s shoes (in a generated prototype) is always helpful.
All of the above leads to producing a high-quality product with well-thought-out interaction experience. Sometimes it helps to reveal missing functionality and details which were skipped in the initial scope.
A great part of engineering a new product is a research of users’ needs and predicting their behavior. This approach is risky because there is always a possibility of making wrong assumptions. That’s why nowadays it is much more desirable to have a feedback from end-users.
It is much easier to run user tests with a prototype than a bundle of wireframes. Thanks to the interactivity of a model, users have a better understanding of the system and the designer receives more accurate data which is actually based on user experience and not on misunderstandings and misinterpretations of a static interface as it used to be.
Another big gain of prototyping is a possibility to use this artefact at later stages of the development cycle. Besides developers, QA guys can also be involved in the process.
Testing and understanding the working model at this stage by the quality assurance team enables quick errors detection and risks revealing. This approach can significantly decrease the time and money spent on bug fixing at later stages.
When do we need interactive prototypes
Generally, any kind of interface which is assumed to have a lot of interaction with end-users requires a prototype. This approach can be used with anything from e-commerce websites to ERP systems. Also it is widely used to create mobile and web applications.
However, the parties involved should be aware of the fact that this powerful tool requires more time to be built than a wireframe. It can take a while to create an interface that is easy to use and requires minimal training from end-users. That’s why it is not recommended to use interactive prototypes with standard 3-page websites which don’t have a lot of interaction in there.