A prototype is a 'model' of the web design to test early in the process.
It usually includes a mock up of a draft home page and of several pages
(or different types of pages) below the home page.
At the earliest stages of design we can produce (or help your team to
produce) wireframes that are the outline structure of the design. These
can either be turned into a prototype as they are, or can be given to
a graphic designer to create more realistic prototypes that look and behave
much like the finished product.
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Prototype is necessary to collect enough information architecture, navigation,
and page design to implement usability testing. They allow you to see
how well the site structure that you are developing meets users' needs
and users' ways of working before you invest too much time, cost, and
effort in building the site. It can cost 200 times more to make a change
after launch than to make the same change in the initial stages of designing.
There are three forms of prototyping to consider, and each has its benefits
The simplest, easiest and cheapest form of prototyping is low-fidelity.
This is where basic elements of the design are printed out and used in
paper form for testing and evaluation. Low-fidelity prototypes have simple
blocks and text instead of images and controls, and a finger is used in
place of a mouse to navigate through pages.
Medium-fidelity prototypes are usually software-based (on a computer
screen instead of printed paper) but still use basic design blocks rather
than realistic images.
High-fidelity prototypes are the most complex form of prototype and are
usually made to look as real as possible. Realistic design and controls
are used (or simulated), so that the user believes they are dealing with
a real working interface. However this is on the surface only, and behind
the scenes there is little or no code to support the prototype - for this
reason high-fidelity prototypes are often referred to as 'smoke and mirror'
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Low-fidelity prototypes are extremely cost effective to use and can quickly
be changed and improved, lending themselves to multiple iterations in
design. However they are harder for users to accept as 'real' in usability
tests and lack complex interactivity. They are also harder to manage for
larger scale designs.
Medium-fidelity prototypes are still cheap and quick to build and modify,
but have the added benefit of being on a computer so that higher levels
of interactivity are possible. Users can make use of a keyboard and mouse
to use the prototype, and larger scale prototypes are much easier to support.
High-fidelity prototypes have the benefit of offering the highest level
of interactivity and realism during tests and evaluations. This means
that users react in the most natural way, and the highest level of usability
issues are uncovered. However, high-fidelity prototypes do take longer
to produce and build.
The ideal prototype can be changed easily based on the results of usability
testing. In addition to being cheap, fast and accessible to non-programmers,
these rudimentary techniques can yield a maximum of feedback on design
ideas at a minimal cost.
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