What is rapid prototyping
Want to gut check an idea for a new user flow, or show potential investors how innovative product features can work? With rapid prototyping, you can create a simple product mock-up to test and validate your design before building it.
Read on to learn more about:
- How your team can benefit from rapid prototyping
- Different types of rapid prototyping
- 3 steps to rapid prototyping, made even easier with Figma
According to Ana Boyer, Designer Advocate at Figma, rapid prototyping helps designers create and test user-centered designs. “Rapid prototyping goes hand in hand with UX research, giving you the feedback you need to build something your users want," she says. "It helps you figure out where key information belongs, and what sequence of a flow makes sense to your users.”
Rapid prototyping can streamline workflows, facilitate communication, and reduce product development risk. “Validating your designs early on with rapid prototyping helps prevent backtracking or repeat work," Ana says.
Rapid prototyping prioritizes speed, so it’s limited in scope—but even a quick mockup can stress-test and improve a product design. The three-step rapid prototyping process is basically a loop that repeats until you’ve got a prototype that resonates with your users. The main steps are:
- Build. Create mock-ups of a design concept or flow, keeping your users’ needs and company’s goals in mind.
- Review. Test your prototype with target users and key stakeholders to learn whether it meets expectations.
- Refine. Adjust the prototype based on the feedback you receive.
Rapid prototyping involves minimal planning, and focuses on designing only the most relevant screens and interactions to validate a flow, feature, or site section.
Rapid prototyping supports agile development, which typically involves one- to two-week sprint cycles. Using agile workflows, teams can whip out a prototype to test and tweak until it’s ready for development.
Rapid prototyping typically comes in three flavors:
- Low-fidelity prototypes include paper sketches and basic digital diagrams. According to Ana, they’re best in early stages, when you’re defining the user experience before creating the design for it. To wireframe designs quickly, check out Ana's helpful video on wireframing in FigJam.
- Medium-fidelity prototypes show key interactions and some design elements in wireframes and workflows. “Medium fidelity is now the default for rapid prototyping, because design systems have become a lot more advanced," Ana notes. "For example, designers can build prototypes by dragging and dropping existing assets onto a canvas in Figma.”
- High-fidelity prototypes are sophisticated UX simulations or fully coded products for user testing or developer handoff. If your design library already has interactive components, you can produce a robust, high-fidelity prototype faster, Ana says. To discover 15 tools that can take your prototype to the next level, check out Ana's article on high-fidelity prototyping.
- Know your audience. Design your prototypes based on who’s evaluating them. Ana recommends that for user testing, they should look and feel as real as possible. If you're gathering early input from your leadership team, clearly mark your prototypes as works in progress. "Using grayscale design elements without drop shadows will communicate that you are deliberately creating a low-fi prototype," Ana recommends.
- Reduce distractions and information overload. Stay focused on the specific part of the flow you want to validate. "There’s no need to build out the entire user experience when you’re just testing a small part of it," Ana says.
- Work smarter, not harder. Don’t add screens and interactions that aren’t necessary. To prototype even faster, lean on your team’s design library or the Figma community for ready-made components.
- Drag and drop design elements. Grab components from your design library, and quickly transform your static design file into an interactive prototype—no coding required.
- Share your prototype. Give users and key stakeholders a link to your prototype that they can view anywhere they have internet access. Ana recommends organizing your prototypes into flows with clear labels and tags, prompting stakeholders to give you the kind of guidance or feedback you need at key points.
- Collect feedback. Comments added to your prototype will instantly show up on your design file—so that you can iterate on the fly.
The Figma community is a reliable resource for professional design tips and templates to add to your own library. Thousands of designers have used Figma community contributor Nailul Izah's handy wireframes kit, which includes over 50 components.
With Figma, your next prototype may be your best yet.
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