Creating a new website from scratch is a complex process with lots of moving parts. To eliminate errors and make a website's development more manageable, design teams often prefer to create high-fidelity prototypes to ensure key stakeholders agree on all visual elements before moving into the development phase.
Prototyping is vital in the design process because it cuts down on development time and prevents backtracking by offering clients and team members a faithful preview of the new site.
A website prototype aims to show how a website will look and function before it goes live. A prototype allows team members to reach a consensus on project details earlier in the project lifecycle when changes are more easily made.
There are many reasons to back prototyping in the website design process:
Prototypes can vary in form and can be anything from a hand-drawn sketch to a high-fidelity mockup to a fully interactive prototype with transitions akin to a demo experience.
Even if you are creating a low-fidelity prototype that may seem more straightforward, the steps in prototyping remain the same, at least as an intellectual process.
The first step in almost any design workflow is research. There's no need to reinvent the wheel in web design, and analyzing sites in the same industry is an excellent way to gather inspiration.
Look for patterns and trends across sites to understand industry standards and expectations. This analysis is a great way to glean knowledge from larger UX teams with more resources for proper usability testing. Pay attention to the UI elements and components competitor websites use across both desktop and mobile devices.
When designing any website or product, there are different goals for which you can optimize. Ideally, optimizing for user experience should take precedence. However, since a website is also a marketing tool, it's sometimes necessary to balance user experience with business goals.
Especially if you are designing a website for a client, understanding and planning for their particular website goals is an absolute necessity to ensure your project's success.
The next step in website designing is to determine your site's information architecture, informing the website navigation. Your previous website research will already have given you ideas on how the information structure should flow on your site. Still, card sorting and tree testing are popular methods to work out these questions if you run into trouble.
In any project, you will always balance time, resources, and cost. The project scope is essentially a compromise between the three around which all of the stakeholders agree. If your website development schedule runs in phases, the project scope will define which capabilities and features make the cut in each development phase.
The project scope phase is also the time to protect yourself from client expectations. It's your job to make sure your client understands what is realistically achievable within the expected timeframe.
Finally, after the research and project scoping are completed, it's time to create the wireframe. The website wireframe is a lower fidelity visual arrangement of your website elements.
Depending on the complexity of your prototype, your website wireframe may be a simple line diagram, or it might be a Photoshop mockup that shows how web pages will look in the browser.
The main point of a wireframe is that it is a visual representation of the structure of your website, and it allows for a final round of edits before moving on to creating the more labor-intensive prototype.
Before moving any further along in the prototyping process, it's crucial to have a baseline knowledge of UI elements and terms. The languages you know often shape your thoughts, so understanding UI terms will help shape your design strategy.
UI terminology can be divided broadly into two categories: action terms and identifier terms.
Action terms can sometimes be referred to as gestures. They describe a user's interactions with your site. Standard UI action terms should be familiar to anyone who engages with contemporary websites and mobile apps. They include:
Identifier terms describe the essential elements and objects with which users interact. Examples of standard UI identifier terms include:
UI elements are divided into three major categories: input elements, output elements, and helper elements.
There are three main routes to prototyping completion: using software, hiring a designer, or using a dedicated prototyping service.
There are many design platforms and prototyping software available. Popular ones praised for their simplicity and efficiency include InVision Studios, Origami Studio, Justinmind, Marvel, Framer and Adobe XD.
The best tools make prototyping faster by offering templates and vector shapes, and simplify canvas editing through drag and drop UI elements. They also generally integrate with essential design platforms like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator as well as Sketch.
If you're new to prototyping, especially without a design background, the learning curve to create a high-fidelity prototype might be too high to overcome within the necessary time frame. Hiring a freelance prototype designer can strike a good balance between cost and output.
Alternatively, several agencies focus solely on high-fidelity prototype creation. Since these agencies live and breathe the prototyping process, a dedicated prototyping service is the fastest pathway to prototyping creation.
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