Understanding the importance of prototype—validating concepts and features early on in the process, UI/UX designers are constantly seeking the BEST prototyping tools. Right now, there are a ton of different applications that can build prototypes, invision, Axure, Flinto, to name a few. However, most of the tools are catered for web/mobile prototypes with 2D interface interaction. As a service designer working on both online and offline experiences, I find it challenging to prototype for a physical space or 3D scenes; also, with popularity of new technologies such as VR/AR, how do UI/UX designers build interactive mocks with multi-dimensional experience?
I brought these questions to UXSG to seek input. Luckily we got group members coming from different backgrounds working as a researcher, product designer, film maker, UX designer, front-end engineer etc. During the discussion we shared a wide range of prototyping tools, not only limiting to web/mobile applications, such as Arduino, 3D printing, CNC milling, etc. Based on different working experiences, we shared our perspectives to the question “how to prototype for multi-dimensional experience” and “what are the best tools/applications”.
Pen and paper are the best
First and foremost, pen and paper are voted as the No. 1 best prototype tools. As we can always find pen and paper anywhere anytime, which allow us get immediate feedback on a design idea without investing too much time first. And paper prototypes are inexpensive to create!
Tool doesn’t matter; rather, the testing goal
Paper prototype is great, but can we use it for AR/VR? Well, tool doesn’t matter: it can be paper and pen, it can be working code, it can be a drawing program in 2D, it can be a 3D professional suite or even Lego bricks: all depends on the testing goal. Before building any prototypes, we need to clarify the purpose of the prototype first, then pick up the right tool accordingly. If the purpose is just to share conceptual thoughts and ideas, maybe some paper sketch is enough; if the purpose is to test certain features that end user will see or hear, perhaps a high-fidelity prototype with 3D animation is needed.
Test one thing first
Though most AR/VR products allow multi-dimensional interactions, not all the testing prototypes need to. A prototype is not the final product. Build the prototype with only the features that are necessary and pick one thing or one “dimension” to test first. If we use one prototype to test multiple items at the same time, we may get lost, and it’s not easy to validate the testing results either. For example, if the prototype is to test the visual elements, then just create 2D visual interfaces; if the purpose is to test the audio part, we can try Arduino with some audio equipments.
If we do need to test all, well, there are a series of VR/AR prototyping tools such as Google Google Cardboard, Unity and Hotline Bling that we can check out. Again, all depends on the testing goal.
Prototype never ends
The last and most important point is from a front-end engineer in the discussion group. We asked him if he ever built any prototypes, he said (I rephrased): “All my work is building the prototype to test with end-users”.