Prototyping is a vital step in the design process in many other industries. So, why don’t we use prototypes when we develop new content? Is it a lack of time? Is it that we are just converting existing material and we think we do not need it? Maybe, in some cases, we think we already know what the learner needs. Even if all that were true, we should follow other industry best practices and create prototypes for our content.
What is a prototype?
Prototypes can be created in many different ways. Create physical prototypes (also called paper prototypes) with simple office supplies to show the end user an approximate facsimile of the interface. The user interacts with the interface and the designer/developer is able to watch the interactions. The paper prototype gives feedback about mouse movement and the general layout. Since it is early in the design process, this feedback comes when you can easily change layout and element placement.
A second type of prototype is the digital prototype. Build digital prototypes with tools like Balsamiq or Moqups, tools web designers use to create wireframes. eLearning rapid development tools such as Captivate or Storyline could also be used to setup the digital prototype, though it’s often faster to prototype in standard presentation tools like PowerPoint or Keynote. Use the digital prototype in conjunction with the physical prototype as an added layer of fidelity. The physical prototype is somewhat abstract in that you are just trying to get the placement of elements down. Start to add real content to the digital prototype to achieve a more refined edition. A benefit of the digital prototype is the ability to share it with a wider audience since it does not require users to be in the same physical location.
Why are prototypes so important?
The primary goal of prototyping is feedback. When we receive feedback early in the design process, we can change things more easily and rapidly. It takes only a few minutes to alter the entire layout of a physical prototype. Prototyping also allows you to quickly test ideas with your audience rather than spending extra hours in the development phase. Once the physical prototype is set, create a digital prototype and refine it as you go forward. Then, when development starts , you have a clear path forward with the design. Use prototypes to get sign-off from stakeholders throughout the design process to reduce conflict and surprises when development begins.
Take the time to create prototypes during your design process. It will save you valuable time during the development process. Web design and app design have showed us that these methodologies are worth the effort.