Benefits of prototyping

As you may have noticed, these days it's not enough anymore if you only provide static mockups as a designer. People have come to expect more and rightfully so. Those people being a mix of developers, clients or stakeholders you end up working with at some point or another of a project.

With the emergence of new tools created specifically for interactive prototyping, another layer of complexity has been added to a designer's job. Last year alone, a handful of these were released trying to overtake Facebook's Origami/Quartz Composer reign. But with this new layer also comes a great opportunity to design and communicate more efficiently.
In this post I'll lay out the benefits of including prototypes into your workflow.

Why should you prototype?

Just because you haven't felt the need to build prototypes in the past that doesn't mean it can't improve the way you design right now. As with many things in life, it's never too late to get started. Lucky you!
Anyways, my short answer to this broad question would be something along the lines of: "Because it's not only useful but really fun!"
For the longer answer you can keep on reading.

Test early, test often

The main reason for me to jump into prototypes in the early stages of a project is to try out interactions and see if they make sense from a user perspective. Testing your app concept thoroughly in the early stages is invaluable. It allows you to discover possible shortcomings or issues you haven't even thought of before.
As strange as it may sound, the more mistakes you make at this point, the better. Your prototype is nothing more than a disposable sketch anyway.

Iterate, iterate, iterate

Building on the previous step, identifying a problem allows you to revise your design decisions in order to find something that might be more suitable for the issue at hand. After all it's just another canvas for you to play on. Again, your prototype is nothing more than a digital sketchbook and you should treat it that way. It's in your best interest explore several options before going ahead with the final design. Who knows what great solution you may end up with after some tinkering?

I've found myself literally just playing around with different ideas on the fly, just because ideas could be discarded guilt-free and that felt pretty good. In fact, this is where I encourage you to go over the top with your designs because once the project goes into production, nobody will want you to try out an alternative way to implement that navigation drawer. Trust me.

Communicate with your team

Whenever a developer asks “What happens if you tap here?” pointing at your wireframes, you can simply pull out your prototype and walk him through the interactions of the app. This saves everyone time and your developer will be able to understand exactly what you mean. No more guessing or misunderstandings because initial instructions were too vague. No confusion = good.

Lastly, keep in mind that a prototype can and should generate spontaneous feedback from your team. Since it's not the finished product, I've found that people are more inclined to critique a prototype as only little time was spent creating it in the first place.

Hopefully this made you want to get started with your own interactive prototypes. In another post I'll write about the current tools we have at our disposal and why I prefer one over the others.