Home > Articles > Web Development

  • Print
  • + Share This
Like this article? We recommend

Styles of Prototypes

There are quite a few ways to create a prototype, and each style has its own pros and cons. Following is a breakdown and description of some popular prototyping styles.

Paper Prototypes

A paper prototype is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: It’s a prototype created entirely on paper. According a recent survey I conducted among members of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA), 82% of IxDA members use paper prototypes when in the early stages of design.

They’re actually quite fun to produce. Paper prototypes don’t require any technical skill beyond the ability to draw an interface and use scissors to cut it up. Paper prototypes can be as simple as a drawing on a single sheet of paper, used to find out what someone would click to perform a task in an interface, or as complex as a large set of individual paper widgets used to run usability tests on key interactions within a planned application. They can be used to simulate web applications, mobile device interfaces, kiosks, and even ATMs.

The act of creating a paper prototype is a return to the days of finger painting and paper airplanes back in grade school. And believe me, your third grade teacher would be quite proud to see how far you’ve gone with such basic skills. A quick run to an art supply store should get you everything you need: large pieces of paper (11"x17" or larger), sketch pads, multicolored markers (including black), reusable tape, and anything else you might need to produce the paper equivalent of an interface, complete with menus, form widgets, and buttons. Once you have all that material in hand, a nice big conference room table becomes the best work surface in the world. Spread out all those tools and start drawing pieces of the interface.

It doesn’t matter one bit if you can’t draw a straight line to save your life. In fact, it’s better that way. The more people realize you’ve put very little work into the interface, the better. When people see an interface in its infancy, in raw, hand-drawn form, they have no reason at all to bite their tongues and refrain from telling you exactly what they think. Mockups, on the other hand, can have the drawback of making people think that the interface is nearing completion or already complete, and they may refrain from making a suggestion that could be really helpful.

HTML

HTML is a great tool for prototyping web pages, primarily because it’s a great tool for building web pages. Pretty obvious connection, eh?

Provided that you’re pretty handy with a WYSIWYG editor (Dreamweaver, for example), you can whip up a finished page in very little time and have a shining example of how the final interface might look. At first, though, it’s better to spend less time and refine your design as you go along. Just get the elements on the page—don’t worry about layout, color, typefaces, or anything like that. Just throw something together as quickly as you can. From there, whip up the most basic JavaScript and CSS possible to get the interactions working and looking somewhat organized. As you’re doing this, you’ll immediately start seeing issues with the design that need to be remedied, and you’re in a perfect position to do something about it. Fix it right then and there.

When you have a basic functioning page, decide whether it’s enough to run a usability test, at least using someone in your office. If not, refine it a bit more.

The major advantage of using HTML to create prototypes is that you’ve already got a nice head start on the interface for the final page. All the elements you need are already in a web page. As long as your code is usable (as in, it’s actually good code), keep it. Start morphing the page, piece by piece, into its final appearance. Don’t worry about whether the back end has been built or the database is up and running. None of that matters at this point. Just get the page into the shape it needs to be in. It can be tied into the back end later on. For now, you’ve got an actual page in front of you, and that’s a good thing. You can run usability tests using the page, and you can use the page yourself. You can take great notes about all the problems with the page by simply using it. When you come across those problems, tweak the page some more. Then hand it off to the developers.

With this technique, the developers will have a designed web page in front of them at all times. They’ll know what needs to be done to make it work; they can’t sneak in their pet features without consulting you first; and as the back end code gets closer and closer to its final working state, the page itself will look more and more like its final version as well. At some point, all the loose ends will be tied up and you’ll have a page that has already been in use for quite awhile, so you know it works. You’ve used it yourself many times. And it’s very hard to trap yourself into theoretical, academic conversations about whether solution A is more usable than solution B when you’ve used the page yourself on countless occasions. You’ll have already seen and addressed all the problems with the page.

Flash

Adobe Flash is a fantastic tool for prototyping, as long as you know your way around ActionScript and can whip up interfaces fairly quickly using the UI components that ship with the authoring tool. Personally, I use it to demonstrate interactions that simply demand a visual, interactive demo, and cannot be covered by writing use cases and drawing wireframes.

It’s not at all necessary to create the entire interface for an application. You really only need to create the individual interaction. But if you find that you need to do this several times to illustrate several pieces of an application, it’s sometimes beneficial to just go for it and create a complete prototype with Flash. This prototype is not as reusable as HTML prototypes (unless the final application will be built in Flash), but it does offer some of the same benefits. It shows the developers what to build, shows the marketers what they’ll be marketing, and so on. In this approach, a Flash prototype is really the same as a functional specification, but can be easier to create (as opposed to writing long sets of use cases and 50-page specs), and will do a great job of simulating the final application’s behavior.

Click-Through Mockups

A click-through mockup is composed of a series of comps that illustrate various application states or screens, each of which has triggers (such as a button) to transport the user to the next screen. If you’re working on the purchase path for an eCommerce site, for example, you might use the home page as the first screen and use a button in the screen to send the user to the next step in the process.

Prototypes like this are great for illustrating a single course of action, but aren’t always very efficient to create when trying to simulate multiple interactions within a single interface. In other words, it might be nice to use a click-through mockup to show the progression from one step in a paginated form to the next, but you probably wouldn’t want to use it to demonstrate a page with multiple possible actions, each of which leads to different screens. Stick to showing off a single interaction rather than expecting to be able to create something as dynamic as what you might be able to show with a more robust prototype.

There are a number of ways to create click-through mockups, some of which have already been covered in this article. You can use frames in a Flash timeline, for example, to lay out a sequence of application states, and simply put buttons on the stage that send users to the next frame. If all the screens have been created, this is quick work—no more difficult than creating a simple presentation with Flash.

If you’re more comfortable with HTML than Flash, use HTML instead. HTML versions of each screen can simply contain links that send users to the next page. The key is to keep it simple. If you’re designing an AJAX-style application that will be making use of DHTML to render several application states within a single page, using click-through mockups is not the way to go. What you can do, however, is create a separate HTML page to represent each state, and have the links simply walk through the states in a sequence.

If you won’t have a laptop handy when you need to present these mockups, you can even apply some paper prototyping skill here. Just print a copy of each application state or page, and have users "click" (with their fingers) through the sheets of paper.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020