UX prototyping: Test, learn and apply

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Neil Sampson, UX designer at Matter Of Form, offers insight into the benefits of prototyping.

Did you know that eight out of 10 new initiatives, services or start-ups fail in their first year? Often, this can be explained by a simple lack of or inadequate consumer research to measure market demand.

In fact, testing concepts and conducting research is vitally important for all businesses, not just start-ups. Well-established online traders often develop features without testing audience reaction or prioritising tasks for the greatest return on investment, which leads to customer frustration, alienation and ultimately, financial loss.

Prototyping is one method that ensures relevant, insightful research, thus improving the chances of a successful business initiative. Testing the prototype allows them to get an idea of how the market might react to that illumination and helps to understand user behaviours, needs and motivations. It can be used to build a new product or even improve an existing design.

An interactive prototype is a working skeleton of a website or app that maps out user journeys and interactions in the same way the final product would. A prototype differs from a flat wireframe through its interactivity. It simulates customer journeys and demonstrates their intuitive logic.

To highlight how prototyping can benefit all, picture the following scenario…

Michelle, chief marketing officer of a hospitality group, has recently invested heavily in a series of partnerships, offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences to guests. These include exclusive dining opportunities, wellness retreats and mini-adventures to enhance their stay.

Her long-term plan is that these should go towards defining the spirit of the brand, as well as differentiating the proposition from what’s on offer at online travel agencies driving direct conversion and increasing margins. However, she’s also worried that an additional point of friction in the booking flow may result in a significant drop-off.

She’s faced with a challenge; where exactly is the best point at which to introduce this new facet of the proposition without confusing guests and causing choice paralysis or drop-off?

Before spending valuable time and budget on design and development resource, a prototype can be created in a matter of hours to test this concept. The prototype recreates the booking flow for a hotel guest with the additional experience opportunities on offer.

Working with a UX researcher, Michelle can run user research sessions with a sample of customers which can provide crucial qualitative insights. This will either validate the proposed UX and design flow and ensure an effective change or highlight where the plan is flawed. Even if the latter scenario arises, it'll provide the necessary consumer insight to adjust, rethink and improve the intended business initiative.

Session feedback provides early insights into whether the concept will be well received by their brand-conscious customer base and, more importantly, Michelle can confidently propose a well-considered design route to her fellow stakeholders while gaining their trust with substantial evidence for return on investment and subsequent success.

By prototyping, Michelle’s idea has momentum compared to proposals previously lined up in the typically congested roadmap backlog, now longer than a queue at a Waitrose coffee machine on a Saturday morning…

At Matter of Form, we are great advocates of a data-driven test & learn approach: we expose a small sample of the customer base to a new concept and record their feedback during a discovery phase. Our UX approach has fostered a collaborative business relationship culture with our clients, empowering them with credible research that supports accurately budgeted design proposals.

Our prototyping phase provides a base for agile working, assessing key hypotheses before execution. From a project perspective, it serves as the benchmark for the final product to which all the departments are aligned (the client, PM’s UX, Design & Technology) – handover from one department to another becomes smoother and more transparent.

Prototyping empowers the client, whilst allowing Matter Of Form to deliver effective, craft orientated work reinforced by data-driven results.

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