At Oildex our software development teams build features in an iterative, repeating loop of Learn > Build > Launch. At times, we involve our end users at any step of the process to make sure we are on the right track. The Learn and Build stages are especially crucial times to get feedback from our users. That’s where we can make sure our OpenTicket, OpenInvoice, and Data Exchange apps are functional, intuitive, and efficient. However, at early stages of the build cycle, the application doesn’t technically exist. Testing its details through can obviously be hard. This is where prototypes come in handy.
Prototypes are mocked up examples of applications or features that are not fully built. We use them so that our test participants can get the feel and function of a feature before it’s released to our customers.
Our prototypes are most often mocked up in a test environment where we can use dummy data and our interface design styles to give a representation of what it would look like in the real world. Most of the time users can click through basic tasks and experience the layout and flow as it would be in the release-ready version. Since most of our usability tests focus on single tasks, we don’t need complete functionality to get accurate test results.
Recently we tested a design for our dashboard layout using a prototype on our QA environment. We were able to run a few different tests on the same prototype, which gave us insight for future design improvements.
The image below illustrates the output of an eye tracking study we conducted on a prototype. It shows an aggregate heat map of where users looked when asked to find a specific check in the app. We use data like this to make sure our interface is usable and intuitive.
Testing with prototypes allows us to get accurate user feedback earlier in the design process — preventing us from going to market with a product that doesn’t meet user expectations. Regular usability testing baked into our process means a more efficient development cycle for us and functional software for our customers.