One of the best ways to test out a new concept or site is by using a prototype – you can check if the new idea is effective with users before investing the time and money required for a fully functioning product. Prototypes are also great if you want to compare how well a few different ideas connect with users before deciding which one you want to use. But what makes a prototype ready for a successful test?

We want our clients to get the most out of each test we run. In the case of prototyping, it’s important to provide a test environment with just the right amount of realism to elicit productive responses from users. Here are some key thoughts on how to create test-worthy prototypes and avoid several common pitfalls:

 

Use realistic content

It’s hard to count how many times participants have told us they can’t read Latin. We understand that when a concept is in the design stage it can be easier to use placeholder text and images such as Lorem Ipsum and blank boxes, but when it comes to test day users need something concrete to react to. Whether you’re presenting instructions, a product description, or something more extensive, participants can only provide feedback if your prototype includes representative copy. While the content does not have to be final language, it should be realistic enough so that participants can read and respond to it as naturally as possible.

 

Be consistent with your details

User testing is one of those times when consistency is key. Nothing breaks a participant out of their flow more than when they see that the price of an item has jumped $50 from the last page, or when their ‘name’ has changed from Shaun to Michelle. This is because they are treating the prototype like a real site – if you were checking out at Amazon and your $20 cart changed to $70 on the confirmation page, it would be alarming. Our goal is for users to give feedback on your design rather than fixating on a surprising prototype bug. Before test day, make sure your numbers add up and that your products and names stay the same throughout the prototype.

 

Keep it simple by creating one complete path

Many prototypes that we test are in the very early stages of a design, or they were created quickly to test a concept. That works for us! There are only two aspects of functionality that we need up and running: we should be able to get from the beginning of a prototype to its end, and if there is a specific feature that we are testing then it should work well enough for users to react to it. Generally, this means that the prototype contains a ‘happy path’, which involves making one product or choice work well while faking all other options. 

Even with only one working path, we can still ask participants to comment on how they might proceed and why. This way we can see how clearly each choice is understood in the prototype before nudging users down the working path. Give users enough of a prototype to explore the features and interactions that you care about, but don’t worry about building unnecessary details.

Remember, the goal of a prototype is to test an idea before committing the money to build a real website or app. As long as you stick closely to your intended content, keep your facts in check, and make sure a user can get from start to finish, we can test your prototype. The polish can come later.

 

If you’d like to know more about testing prototypes or have a prototype that you would like to test out, email us or call us anytime at 847-864-7713.