Thursday, January 29, 2009

Do prototypes help or hinder the Interaction Design process

Almost ten years ago, Alan Cooper (author of About Face and The Inmates Are Running the Asylum and my personal hero) of Cooper wrote a journal article titled "The Perils of Prototyping". It made me think about today's software and the way in which we designers communicate our vision to developers. I posted a comment on that blog asking this question:

"Do the capabilities of today's tools and the expectations of today's users change the need for prototyping?"

The reason I ask is because it isn't as easy to test interaction design patterns on paper if they require visual transitions, sounds, tactile responsiveness (on touch screens), vibration (think Nintendo Wii).

I have seen numerous times that communicating complex interactions to developers with paper mockups, or even digital mockups, is far more difficult than showing a prototype that actually does what is required. 

I have also heard first hand from developers that say a prototype really helped them with the details. Not only does it display how the software should behave, it provides and idea of how it might be implemented. This might be unique to the fact that the prototype built with Flex was for an application that was also built in Flex. So there was the ability for direct reuse of custom components, etc.

What do you think. Is there value? Can it work in an Agile environment? Or is it still as unnecessary as it was ten years ago? 

1 comment:

Samantha said...

In my opinion, today's tools don't change the *need* for prototyping, but they may provide different ways of using prototypes. There is something to be said for having a very basic, low fidelity prototype to gain input from users about how they want to interact in an environment. If you don't have cues like sound in a prototype, then it can be more obvious where cues can be added to benefit users rather than burden them.

On the other hand, we now have more sophisticated tools that can be used to test an idea, or several options, that are close to, or simulate, an end product. This is where I believe the information gathered during the low fidelity trials should be implemented and tweaked when tested in a system that has the basic concepts/design solidified.