UX Prototypes Should Represent the Complexity of Our Designs

Posted By Debbie on October 23, 2018

I recently read a blog post that claimed the best tool for clickable, interactive prototypes is Figma… because most people just need to make simple click-throughs. The author claimed that few really need “complex” prototyping.

I couldn’t disagree more.

UX design is more than clicking through the happy path. And if you are sending something to user testing and you want to reduce bias, then you would want a prototype that is less scripted. Give testers the ability to really explore and try things out. This is better than “did they successfully click through the main path we prototyped.”

What we are designing is increasingly complex.

We no longer move page to page, screen to screen with one main action or choice per page. We have interactive elements within a screen. We have elements that appear, disappear, expand, move, overlay, etc. We have field validation and error messaging. There are so many things that can happen on one page or screen. There are things that happen on screens only once you have scrolled down a precise amount. A click-through model probably fails to capture that.

Systems and interfaces have complexity; your prototyping tool should handle that.

With conditional logic and variables, the clear winner is Axure. If you just need the happy path click-through, and that’s really all you want to prototype, go ahead. You have ENDLESS choices for tools; there are so many companies fighting in that space. Most of my colleagues prefer Invision.

Realistic prototypes improve our ability to communicate the design to teammates and stakeholders

Even if you aren’t concerned about building something realistic for user testing (though you could be!), a realistic prototype is great for collaboration, communication, and delivery to teammates. Since I started delivering Axure prototypes to engineering, they have requested documentation and annotated wireframes way less often. Sure, they still need visual design and style guides (I’m not a visual designer). But for the functionality, process, flow, steps, possibilities, layouts, etc., you can’t beat a realistic prototype.

A click-through prototype isn’t realistic. You can’t just hand it to a stakeholder and say, “Try this.” You have to script it and make sure he or she follows the path you created.

I’ve been hired for my ability to create realistic prototypes that capture the complexity of interfaces.

I once had a famous international bank come to me. They needed a prototype and they had a flow chart and all of the screens.

I was the third person they were coming to. The first two had… overinflated… their Axure abilities and could not build what was needed. They were let go. The bank had budgeted 200 hours for me to build this and they needed it for user testing. I was able to complete it in 65 hours, so I was the double hero who got it done and under budget.

Like any real flow or process, their interface had multiple possible outcomes. A simple click-through prototype will not realistically capture all branches of the path.

Today’s screens and systems deserve realistic prototyping.

If you want the best in class for realistic prototyping, you want Axure. If you want to click through, you probably have 40 tools that would be just fine. Axure is not hard to learn or use, especially if you take my training (OK, I’m biased here but I AM one of Axure’s few recommended trainers).

Let’s stop telling ourselves that we don’t really need “complex” prototyping. That’s like saying we don’t need to spend time really designing all of the states of a page, possible outcomes, paths, errors, etc.

I work directly in Axure. I don’t wireframe in one tool and then prototype in Axure. For every project, I go straight into Axure to build something realistic. It’s the best way to know if the concept and execution could be great choices for the target audiences.