There are more than six million apps in the world today. Since its launch, Apple’s App Store has gone from 800 apps in July 2008 to 2.2 million apps in January 2017, and this number is predicted to skyrocket, with an expected five million apps by 2020. In this increasingly crowded space, the competition is fierce—while the time users spend with mobile apps has steadily increased over the past few years, the number of apps used has been on the decline.
Underpinning these heightened stakes is the fact that users now have higher standards than ever for how an app should look and feel. In today’s saturated digital product landscape, design is the ultimate competitive advantage. Design helps determine if a product is “user-friendly.” Design helps determine how much a user will trust a product (and the brand by extension). And design helps determines if a user will stick around — or if the app will be one of the many that are downloaded once and never used again.
In today’s saturated digital product landscape, design is the ultimate competitive advantage.
If design is this critical to the success of a digital product, it can’t be an afterthought. And yet it so often is. Too many companies jump straight into building a product without first taking time to create a thoughtful experience around their users. This leaves them with a product that can’t be tested, is unable to scale, and wastes heaps of both time and money on development.
So how do you make sure that your product avoids this fate?
You design a prototype.
A prototype is a simulation of your digital product. It allows you to magically turn an idea in your head into something that can be experienced by real people in the real world. This means that you can quickly figure out the right way to go about building your product—and if it’s worth building at all.
Prototyping lets you test how your product will look and feel to users — all before spending a dime on development. If you wait until your product is live before testing it with real people, you may be too late. By then, you may have already racked up “technical debt” in building useless features, ineffective, untestable solutions, or a product that users just don’t want.
Prototyping lets you test the way your product will look and feel to users — all before spending a dime on development.
The beginnings of a product idea are filled with assumptions—about the problem you’re trying to solve, the journeys your users will take, and the value proposition you’re offering them. Through the process of prototyping, you can challenge your assumptions and validate your concept so that you don’t go blindly into launching a product.
Learning and Iterating
Putting an interactive product simulation in the hands of potential users allows you to quickly and easily collect critical real-time feedback. You can learn which features are most important and how users respond to the overall experience. The more you learn, the better you’ll iterate—until you’ve identified the key features to kickstart the development of your MVP (minimal viable product). And what’s more, now you have a physical representation of your product that you can show potential investors— helping them visualize how your product will function and convincing them that your idea is viable in the market (and therefore worth funding).
There are no guarantees. But by creating a testable prototype before going straight into development mode, you can increase your likelihood of delivering a delightful user experience—and a product that people love.
The majority of digital products fail because they ultimately don’t meet their users’ needs and expectations. By helping you design the best possible user experience, prototyping will set you up for success from the very start.