When it comes to app prototyping, there’s a wealth of how-tos, tips, and tools across the Internet. So if you’re just getting into the game, it can quickly start feeling quite overwhelming with the sheer number of resources out there.
It can also be challenging when it comes to figuring out where you should begin. However, there’s no need to fret, we at Digi117 have been doing this for years, so you can benefit from our extensive knowledge and experience.
But before we get knee deep into prototype development, let’s define it.
What Is a Mobile App Prototype?
A mobile app prototype can be defined as an interactive representation of your digital product or the most basic version of your mobile application. The aim here is to show the app’s main functionalities and test it out with a focus group (or a target audience).
In this scenario, your business (or startup) will have an opportunity to identify and fix problems before you spend a significant amount of time and resources developing the actual end product. As it’s just a basic concept of your mobile app, it will be rough around the edges, and that’s perfectly fine.
It’s important to approach this process carefully because research suggests that the average Android app loses 77% of its daily active users within the first three days. By the end of the month, that number will rise to 90% (and to 95% after 90 days).
According to Ankit Jain, Founding Partner of Gradient Ventures & Director of Engineering at Google, “users try out a lot of apps but decide which ones they want to ‘stop using’ within the first three to seven days. For ‘decent’ apps, the majority of users retained for seven days stick around much longer. The key to success is to get the users hooked during that critical first three to seven day period.”
Why Is It Important to Build a Prototype?
This is a critical step in the app development cycle as the journey from concept to market will be riddled with unforeseen obstacles that you can’t afford to find out about once the product’s published in the app store.
By developing a viable prototype that can be tested by your target audience, you’ll have an opportunity to smooth things out and correct incorrect assumptions you might have had (when you came up with the idea).
When you start with a prototype, you get the end-users actively involved in the development process. This approach will put you on the fast lane to identifying errors that will undoubtedly come up during the development cycle.
When you find problems with your prototype within the first few iterations, you’ll save money while spending less time eliminating bugs in the system. This is because it’ll take more time and cost a lot more to implement changes once your app is out in the marketplace.
Finding errors later on also puts you at risk of damaging your brand image. So the sooner you'll get feedback, the better chance you’ll have of building a successful digital product. An app prototype can also act as the catalyst if you’re looking to raise funds to make the complete product.
So how should established businesses and startups develop a successful mobile app prototype? Let’s dive right in and take a look at Digi117’s approach to building a successful mobile app prototype.
Identify the Problem You’re Going to Solve
Whenever a client walks into one of our offices in Vancouver or Guadalajara, one of the first questions we ask is “what problem are you hoping to solve with your mobile app?” Just like any idea for a new business, it all starts with defining the problem you’re going to solve better than anyone else.
Beyond the problem you’re going to solve, you should also have an in-depth understanding of your potential target customers. After all, it’s crucial to know who they are as you’ll need them to test your prototype.
For example, if it’s a FinTech app that provides fast short-term loans, you will need to know the typical characteristics of the financial services customer you’re going to target with your offering. At this juncture, you’ll also have to think about the unique selling point (USP) for your solution.
If we stick to the example above, your USP will be providing loans as needed quickly (24/7) without all the hassles (and paperwork) generally associated with applying for a small, short-term loan.
Before you spend a dime on app development, it’s vital to conduct some research to ascertain if your idea is viable or not. Sometimes, you might find that there’s already a similar solution out in the marketplace.
Determine the Features and Functionalities You're Going to Implement
If your idea is feasible, then it’s time to list the features and functionalities you want to implement (in your mobile app). This process can start right from the drawing board before a single line of code is written.
App features and functionalities should be listed in order of preference. The most important features should be built first, but start developing the app in order of complexity. This is because simple features and functions might be enough to begin testing the prototype.
Focus on User Experience (UX) & Build the Wireframe
At this juncture, you can start building your mobile app prototype based on UX. It might take a few iterations to get it right, but it’s worth the effort.
The best place to start is by going through a few rough sketches of the user interface (UI) and categorize the functionalities like the profile, dashboard, and so on. Once you’re happy with the drawings, you can start working on the wireframe.
Wireframing is about building the basic skeleton or structure of the mobile app. So when you’re ready, you can leverage a variety of prototyping tools and functional wireframes to bring your idea to life.
Some of the best wireframing tools include the following:
A wireframe will look like a bunch of boxes, lines, and descriptions. This helps developers stay on track during the app development cycle. You can even share this information with a small focus group to get some early feedback.
Test! Test! Test!
Once everyone is totally satisfied with the wireframes, you can start carefully testing your prototype. Testing extensively is at the heart of building a successful mobile app, so make sure that you don’t cut corners during this part of the whole process.
There are different ways to approach app prototype testing, but at Digi117, we like usability tests. This is because it can help you quickly find out how useful your app really is (in the grand scheme of things).
When you engage in usability testing, you will be able to understand how the end-user will operate the app and take advantage of its different features and functions. At this stage, it’s best to keep iterating until you achieve perfection.
Turn Your Wireframes Into Designs
Once the testing phase is complete, all the wireframes can be transformed into the final designs. This is where the designers take over a large chunk of the project and focus on the final design of UI.
They might turn your sketches into eye-catching designs, or they may choose to illustrate and design their own ideas. So it’s important to keep engaging them regularly and keep track of their work until everyone is happy.
Next, you can upload the prototype and get a real feel for the final product. If everyone isn’t satisfied, you can keep tweaking it until you’re ready to publish it in the app store.
As you can see, mobile app prototyping is a process that bridges the gaps between developers, designers, business leaders, and the target audience. By following this approach, you’ll have a much better chance of building a successful digital product while saving a lot of money and time.