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Why a design prototype is the key to a successful app

Kathryn WhartonDesign

The importance of an app design prototype cannot be underestimated. Nor can the value of the work that goes into creating it. 

Design prototypes are produced by our in-house designers during our discovery phase, the first of a four-part process to develop mobile and web apps that respond to the needs of our clients and their customers. 

While it might seem like a simple mechanism for sharing design ideas with clients, a prototype is actually a pretty sophisticated tool for validating everything that will make the app outstanding. 

Let’s find out more about how we use app design prototypes and why they’re the key to developing a successful app. 

What is a design prototype?

A design prototype is a model of your app that can be tested by you and your users before being developed. 

During usability testing, the prototype will go through a number of changes to refine it in response to feedback from users. 

Once our researchers and app designers are comfortable that the prototype meets the needs of the client and the end user, it will be used by our mobile app developers to begin production. 

Testing your concept

One of the most valuable roles of a design prototype is to validate the concept of your app. 

The prototype is the product of a thorough discovery process where we cover strategy and user experience, plus the creative and technical requirements of the app. A huge amount of research is carried out here, looking at your marketplace, your customers’ needs and wants, the technical capabilities of your business, and even the commercial viability of your initial idea. 

Our researchers and designers work closely to ensure all of the insight we gather is channeled into the prototype design. One of our senior designers, Claire, believes this is a significant resource: “Having an in-house research team means designers have top-quality insight to inform their choices and don’t have to do research themselves - that makes for a much faster process and a much better product.”

As it’s created within the discovery phase - which brings together our product managers, researchers, designers, developers and clients - the design prototype is a collaborative asset that incorporates expertise from across our business and yours. 

This is also the most cost-effective time to design, test and fail. Testing hypotheses on a prototype product is much quicker and cheaper than rewriting code or amending the app concept later in the development process. 

Applying your brand

The app design prototype is the place to test the application of your brand identity.

Clients often want to apply their standard brand guidelines to digital products but that doesn’t always work for differing formats and usability needs. Seeing how a brand identity looks on a prototype is a great opportunity to refine the use of brand elements and agree on the most effective treatment. One aspect we usually advise our clients on is making accessible branding. You can read more about our stance on colour accessibility in design here.

We have used prototypes to test brand ideas for clients who have existing brand guidelines and for those who are developing their visual identities. When we built an online store for an artisan cheese company, we applied its standard brand identity to the prototype and received feedback from test users that the colours were overpowering and the images didn’t work. We made some small changes that improved the user experience without compromising the overall brand identity. 

We had no brand guidelines when building a new app for a social engagement platform for influencers. Instead, we asked the client for their design heroes and wishlist and used that inspiration to create an aesthetic for the prototype that was carried through to the app development stage. 

The design prototype is flexible enough to respond to any stage of brand development, providing a place to discover the most effective visual concepts. 

Getting the most from your time and budget

The first prototype that comes out of the discovery phase will focus on the key features which emphasise the USP of the application. 

Our designers aim to get the right balance between usability and innovation. But sometimes the simplest features take the most time to develop and getting the functional foundations of the app right is a priority. 

Our product managers and designers work together to present clients with a proposal for what can be delivered within the project time and budget. That means you’ll get a clear and deliverable plan of action that takes you right up to product launch. 

You’ll also get a longer-term roadmap of additional features, functionality or concepts that were scoped during the discovery phase, so you have some defined next steps to develop your digital product. 

The entire Discovery Team puts in a lot of work to create a design prototype that matters. Not only does it show our clients how their app could look, it tests the validity of their concept and ensures their product can be delivered within their timescale and budget. 

Get in touch

Contact our team today to discuss how creating a design prototype with hedgehog lab is the key to app success. Or take a look at our design credentials to see why we’re ranked #1 in the world for app development