This column is by Ajeet Singh, Co-Founder & Director of Business Management at Algoworks
Today the market is flooded with n number of prototyping tools for mobile. Every day when we go hunting for one of them, we stumble upon a dozen more and sooner or later tend to forget the one we found which was suitable for the purpose thereby making the comparison even more difficult. But just as we need the right tool to carve the best sculpture out of the stone we need the appropriate tool for mobile as well.
Digging deep I have concluded that a correct or appropriate mobile prototyping tool can help reduce hundreds of working hours when building an application.I will go on discussing the various factors needed for selecting the correct prototyping tools in details but before that let’s have a close look at the basic criteria on which the various prototyping tools should be gauged. They are as follows:
1. Cloud-based or online access.
2. Collaboration features available.
3. Create low as well as high fidelity wireframes.
4. Create wireframes right from scratch.
5. Able to create responsive designs.
6. A number of projects it supports over the time.
7. Usability testing feature or usability testing integration with other tools.
Find the various prototyping tools here.
Generic factors deciding the selection of prototyping models are as follows:
1. Do you even need a prototyping tool?
The first question that you should ask yourself before you start hunting for a prototyping tool is that do you even need one or just being a part of the race. Many times paper
prototyping is more reasonable as it is a great way to very rapidly test out a low fidelity version of design,like sketches. Similarly if you are a web coding ninja creating a HTML prototype is more fruitful.
2. What will you be prototyping?
After you have answered the first question you land onto the next question i.e. what is it that you will be prototyping? A mobile app? A desktop app? A website? Since this is what does influence the sort of tool you might use.
3. Prototyping Mobile Apps
You can always use tools like Proto.io and Axure, but there is a ‘good fit’ and ‘best fit’ and we need to be sure before we go for one. If you are going for native prototypes (i.e runs like a native app) then you will need a dedicated mobile app prototyping tool like Form, Pixate, Origami, etc. If you have got some screen mock-ups already then InVision, Concept.ly, Solidify gives you a better and quicker provision to create a mobile prototype supporting gestures, swipe, drag and a lot more.
4. At what stage of design process you are?
You need to create prototypes during the different phases of development. During the initiation, there will be an early low-fidelity prototype to test a design concept and towards the later part you go for a more in-depth critical high fidelity prototype to test a more iterated version of design. Balsamiq and MockFlow are used for low fidelity whereas Invision and Concept.ly are used for a more high fidelity prototypes. So at what stage you are greatly affecting the selection of your prototyping tool.
5. How much are you ready to pay?
Most UX prototyping tools are not free and even the ones which do have free accounts will restrict you in a number of occasions. So it will also depend a lot on the amount of money you are willing to pay up and what features you will have access to.
Technical Factors deciding the selection of prototyping models are as follows:
1. Interactive Fidelity
Interaction also has several depths. Yet another question to be answered is that what is the degree of interaction you want? It can be the static page with a minimum clickable area with hyperlinks and side-ins or it can be critical multi-step conditional interactions. So whatever it is, prototyping tools do exist for the needful. Mock-Up prototyper likeInVision support less interactions but for more deep rooted interaction you will probably want to opt for prototyper like Axure.
Mobile Prototyping also involves gestural input designing. So you need to dig in whether your project has this requirement or not. Majorly UX-specific tools support this out of the box- while one set of tools have built-in gestures, another set of tools support the formulation of gestures and multi-finger inputs. Built in gestures can be found in tools like Blueprint, Appcooker and in cloud-based mobile tools like Proto.in, having simple support for swipe, taps and flicks but lacking any configurable parameters. However if your prototype has more to it like drag dampening, speed etc then you need to leverage tools with API (code-based or abstracted). Axure and Hammer can be your choice and Pixate and Framer are the ones which even support multi-finger gestures.
The third factor which plays a vital role in communicating mobile interaction is animation. At the initiation of the project, you should have a clear picture whether you need to create animations in the prototype or not. It is imperative to know the amount of control is required over animation. Tools that come with built-in animations are Blueprint, Xcode,POP but they lack customizability. While Axure, Justinmind falls in the category of more robust tools that offer configuration settings like elasticity and timings. For additional physics-based properties like velocity, friction, etc. you can always go for Framer.
It won’t work if you are oblivious of the up front how you are expected to work with others because designers work in collaboration with stakeholders and a number of other professionals like visual designers and developers during the entire project’s lifecycle.
Therefore, collaborative creation of a prototype is equally important. The tools which support a single user is like Pixate and Framer while there are others like Marvel, POP, InVision which lacks co-creation but gives the provision of a minimum level of collaboration by capturing external feedback thereby driving iteration. However we consider Justinmind and Axure amongst the robust collaboration prototyping tools.
5. Visual Design
While prototyping you also need to consider the expectations for the deliverable’s visual fidelity.It is mostly undertaken in large enterprises. The fidelity will be decided by the project’s goals and audiences. Usually, it is high for pitches, moderate for usability testing and low for concept proofs. Paper-in-mobile tools like Blueprint, cloud-based tools like Pixate, InVision and code-based tools like Framer are used to create interactions around visual assets imported from external visual apps. Certain prototyping tools like Axure and Justinmind are capable of sophisticated visual design involving drop shadows, reusable styles and gradients.
Amongst myriad meetings, managing feedbacks, meeting stringent deadlines — designers have a lot on their plate. It has actually become challenging to take out time and complete the work. Enter – Prototyping tools. Puts a smile on the face of designers. But as time trickles away there is an entire desert and handpicking a single grain becomes a daunting task. So I hope considering the above factors will make your life somewhat easier. Go ahead…make your choice!!
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