The Prototyping Process and Clients

When I was a account manager for an interactive agency, I got as much project feedback from my clients as I could. However, after facing consistent rework and headaches, we made prototyping part of our standard process. As a result, I also learned to educate the clients by reviewing four main points about the prototyping process. I’ve recently learned that many agencies don’t clarify this process for their clients, frequently resulting in confusion and misunderstandings. Depending on the needs of the interactive project, you’ll often have to review the prototype with your client. If your clients are not as technically savvy as you, they may need clarification on the following points about creating a website / web application prototype:

1. Why a prototype is necessary
2. How to use the prototype
3. What is expected from them as the client
4. What are the next steps after the prototype.

If you find yourself in a situation like the one I just described, I’d like make it easier for you to explain to your clients the prototyping process with ProtoShare. Below are some common scenarios and answers to the topics (mere suggestions from personal experiences). Feel free to add your own tactics and experiences in the comments area below.

1. Why a prototype is necessary

Client: “I’m have a tight budget and deadline, so I don’t understand why this extra step is necessary. We already talked about my needs for the site/application. Can’t you just take my ideas and build what I need?”

Response: Yes, we could actually start building the site/application for you. But because you ARE on a tight budget and deadline, it’s best that we begin with the layout of the sitemap and pages to ensure we’re going in the right direction. We need to make the most of your investment by making sure that 1) We truly understand your needs, 2) We provide you with a proper solution to meet those needs, and 3) You and your end-users will be satisfied with the final product. A good comparison is that of a house. Not only would we need blueprints to create the foundation to know where to build the walls, but we’d also need to know if it is important for you to have the garage next to the kitchen. And what if you decide you want 12’ high walls instead of 10’? You need to determine these things prior to building the house. Trying to move walls, redirecting a driveway, and tearing down construction once you’ve already started building is much more costly than if properly planned from the start. One “small” change can have a ripple effect throughout the whole structure. Well, it’s the same with a website/web application. Making changes later in the process is much more costly because valuable development work has been done, and altering it is much more difficult than changing a drag-and-drop prototype.

2. How to use the prototype

Client: “What do I do with this thing? It’s just a grouping of boxes and lines and certainly does not look like a website. I also don’t like gray. Where’s the color? And I don’t know what “lorem ipsum” means; my site/application should be written in English.”

Response: You are correct. Right now, it doesn’t look much like a finished website/application. Let’s go back to the house planning we just discussed. The blueprints of a house look nothing like the actual house. However, when looking at the blueprints, you understand where the master bedroom is, where the windows and doors are, and how wide the hallways will be. We are doing the same thing with your website/application.
We need you to review the page and interact with the layout, navigation, graphics, interactive forms, copy placement, etc. Will this make sense to your users? Will this layout help achieve your goals? Does the flow of pages make sense to you? How you and your customers interact with the site is key to the success of the project. When we answer these questions, we can move into a more high-fidelity prototype.

3. What is expected from the client

Client: “Okay, I understand the comparison to building a house. What else do you need from me? How do I know what to look at and when?”

Response: Once we’re ready to show you part of the prototype, you’ll receive an email with a link into ProtoShare. You have your own login to access your site/application. Click through the pages as if you were navigating through a real site. Because your time is valuable and we cannot always meet or personally discuss the pages or changes, you have the ability to access your prototype when it is convenient for you. On the prototype, you may also find annotations (our notes about decisions) or red pins that are discussion points. If you see something you want to comment on, or reply to, just click on the red pin; or create a new topic and drag out a red pin. We have access to all your feedback and if you have more detailed questions, or if we need clarification, we can schedule a time to talk. What’s important is that you are involved in the planning process upfront, ensuring that the project is done on time, on budget, and meet all goals.
(ProtoShare also has a brief video tutorial showing your clients how to work in the tool.)

4. What are the next steps

Client: “So what happens next?”

Response: (this will obviously vary from project to project and depends on your company’s process) Since we’ve reached agreement on an interactive prototype of your project, we’ll begin building your site/application. We may need to do some user testing. Because we engaged you early in the process, we have a clear understanding of your project’s unique requirements. And we should be able to deliver with a minimum of changes and rework, meeting your budget and deadline.

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