As an instructional designer, I have always placed an enormous amount of focus on the beginning of any project – to me, the analysis phase has been at the heart of every good project. Deeply understanding both your learning need and the characteristics of your learners plays an integral part in your design decision making. Without a good needs analysis, you simply can’t develop a strong project.
But over the past seven weeks, I’ve turned my attention to the opposite end of the design and development process – the prototyping and testing phase. I was handed a project topic and was quickly asked to come up with personas and goals off the top of my head. The integrity of those elements was not important in this course – rather we were focused on taking those goals and developing a working prototype.
In the past I have only developed prototypes in a superficial way – wireframes, mock ups, and storyboards all fit within the realm of prototyping. Prototyping, after all, is simply expressing your concept in a visual, physical form so that others can provide you with feedback. Low res prototyping, using very rough and low-tech methods, is an essential part of the design thinking process, in order to gain meaningful feedback before too much time has been spent in the graphic design or technical programming phases. In this course, I was able to take that prototyping to the next level – still in low fidelity formats, but richer in depth and context than I had previously explored. I created information architecture site maps, which outlined the navigational flow of my project, and mini sample screens using a primitive but highly effective paper and pencil format.
Through the use of a really cool app called Marvel, I was able to bring these sketches to life in an interactive prototype, which I could then bring to my test users for feedback. Being able to hand over my phone, with an interactive version of my hand drawings, was a pretty cool experience, one which I felt gave me more authentic feedback than when I simply carried out the usability testing exercise using my paper mock ups and a “human computer” approach.
Taking those hand sketches and converting them into more professional and refined looking medium res prototypes, and then importing those into the interactive Marvel app, made me feel like I was even closer to actually developing the real thing. If this course could have continued for a few more weeks, I would have welcomed the opportunity to test this evolved version of my project with a new set of users.
The past seven weeks have shown me the importance of this phase of the design cycle – which ideally doesn’t happen just at the end, but happens throughout several iterations in the middle of a design project. Prototype – test – refine – prototype – test perhaps holds equal weight with the initial analysis phase of the design process. The ability to get feedback from potential users, and make changes based on that feedback, is truly essential to developing a quality product that is going to meet the needs of your end user. After seeing the value of this phase first hand, I will be sure to build in more time to address it in future design projects, and emphasize it more emphatically with my own students.
Want to test my app for yourself? Click through my medium fidelity prototypes in Marvel!