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What’s the Deal with Rapid Prototyping (and Why do I Need it)?

April 13, 2017

With new technology constantly cropping up, the chance to truly refine products before they are released is becoming much more achievable. In the past, design and build phases have been precarious processes, famous for taking gruelling, painstaking hours to complete. Then upon finally completing the project, there’s always the risk that it won’t completely match your (or your client’s) vision, therefore forcing you to go back to the drawing board.

Rapid prototyping is swiftly changing that. Here’s how.

First of all, what is rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is essentially the production of a functional, interactive, three-dimensional model that serves as a workable draft. It gives designers the chance to convey their solutions via a tangible yet disposable product as opposed to a few sheets of scrawled paper.

Officially coming into fruition in the late 1980s, rapid prototyping has long been considered ‘the future’ of invention and innovation for design and engineering fields. Now that app technology is beginning to take over, the same benefits can be applied to this field to generate better, quicker and much more accurate results.

Generally-speaking, a rapid prototype in mobile app development consists of screen flows and wireframes, and can be low-fidelity or high-fidelity (i.e. buttons and navigational features). Usually, designers will deliver an MVP – a ‘minimum viable product’ – which contains the bare minimum set of essential features and functions of your app.

What are the key benefits?

1. Ability to create a balancing act between a client’s vision and a company’s expertise

This is particularly critical in the applications industry where the technology is still relatively new, ideas are fresh and contributors are often quite forward-thinking. A successful app should be built upon a series of foundational pillars: innovation, usefulness, value and easy user interface. Rapid prototyping enables designers to adhere to the client’s vision while gradually introducing their own ideas and expert advice. In other words, it lets the client see for themselves how their original vision can be adapted and improved to better benefit the final product.

2. Testing becomes much easier

The need to continually test different aspects of the design is paramount in app development. With a prototype at hand, things like usership testing can be performed on a mock version of the final product to assess its likely degree of success. By giving the app to a typical user to test, you gain highly valuable feedback. After all, at the end of the day, the app developer and the client can only rely on so much information and gut instinct – it is up to the end user to determine whether the final product will generate downloads and subsequent revenue.

3. Changes can be integrated on the fly

Following on from the previous point, any changes that need to be made to the original design to render it more user-friendly can now be easily incorporated. Rapid prototyping enables developers to react and make the necessary iterations in a much smoother and more efficient fashion compared to previous prototyping systems, wherein changes were time-consuming and it would potentially take months before you could demonstrate the revisions to the client.

4. Major savings on time and costs

Needless to say, the opportunity to showcase your design to major stakeholders before building the final product slashes on time and costs. In an industry that’s as fiercely competitive as mobile app technology, this benefit can be tantamount to success. It allows developers to adhere to the strict timelines normally implemented by start-ups, and to enable investors to quickly see an ROI that matches their expectations. Furthermore, it means you have a good chance of conquering the race to get your app out there before a competitor does. In terms of financials, rapid prototyping cuts down on the costs spent on materials as you make small adjustments before committing to full-scale production, which brings me to my next point…

5. Design flaws are minimised before heading to the mass production stage

One of the major benefits of rapid prototyping is the fact that you can identify flaws in the design before actually launching the final product. By building a mock app using materials that closely resemble the properties and strength of the real thing, developers can pinpoint any possible faults or risks that might hamper the manufacturing process. The need to iron out kinks before releasing a product to the public is critical to its success as well as your brand’s reputation and profitability – consider just some of the latest product recalls that have occurred in Australia: SodaStream was forced to recall thousands of bottles earlier this year due to the risk of explosion, while Little Tikes had to recall 540,000 of its children’s swings after numerous reports of minor injuries. Few things taint your brand faster than a dodgy product and unhappy consumers.

Evidently, undertaking a rapid prototyping workshop enables app developers to answer a number of highly important questions before diving into the actual build. The developer can bring the client’s ideas to life and tweak them where necessary, ultimately setting the most solid foundation possible for development. At the crux of rapid prototyping lies the advantage of not just achieving a client’s goals, but actively exceeding them.