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The occasional musing about design, games, music, etc.

8 essential prototyping tips

A big part of innovating with technology is prototyping. you need to take a nascent idea and whip up something quick & dirty that validates your thinking. this is a critical part of wrapping your technological mind around the feasibility of something. here’s a nice list of 8 tips that i try to keep in mind whenever i make a prototype:

1. write a question, and make your prototype answer it
when you have a specific question in mind that you need answered, your code will have purpose. i find it helps to actually write out the question, as it helps you clarify why you’re prototyping to begin with. 

2. keep it low quality
be sure that whatever you make is the lowest fidelity possible. stick to answering your questions, and make it look nice later. this goes for scalability & performance as well. if the idea is good, it will be worth the time to do it right later.

3. if it works, throw it away!
i know this seems counterintuitive, but if you followed tip 2, you probably cut a lot of corners. if the idea is good, and the prototype does what you need. it’s time to put it on the shelf, and plan for doing it for real.

4. make the biggest risk prototype first
most good ideas have several types of risks associated with them. is that possible with a normal database? can we do that with the API’s we have available? whatever the variables be sure to tackle the biggest risk factor first. that way if you hit a block, you’ve wasted as little time as possible.

5. do multiple prototypes at once
if you’re lucky enough to be working with a team, be sure you divide and conquer. have your designers make a visual mockup of the screens, while you try to get a technical proof of concept working. 

6. it doesn’t have to be digital!
i love paper prototypes. they help me quickly pass through screen ideas and think about the relationships of interfaces very rapidly. a good prototype doesn’t need to be coded! 

7. use simple tools to make things faster
use html, powerpoint, keynote, or other simple visualization tools to make something that feels real, without having to write a single line of code. you’ll be surprised what you can learn from a short time with these tools.

8. build the toy before you build the game
when trying to create people like to use, there’s a low level interaction that needs to be fun (the toy) then theres the bigger reason why you’re doing it (the game). i try to remember to make the toy fun to play with first, then you can more clearly see the plan for the bigger system.