Monday, March 25, 2013

Enterprise Mobile Prototyping

Projects involving technology that is emerging, changing rapidly, or where the stakeholders are not experts will benefit greatly from prototyping. In these conditions it's difficult to get the best value out of a traditional 'blueprint everything up front' approach. Of course I'm talking about enterprise mobile projects here.

As well as not understanding potential pitfalls it would be easy to miss out on leveraging all the possibilities of the new technology. On projects I have worked on in the past I've attempted to leverage the build tools for prototyping (or just mocked up things and discussed them over a projector.) Of course depending on the tool being used this can be problematic. Sometimes just getting the tools installed and setup can take quite a while. Often the build tools are not suited to quickly producing useful prototypes.

With a mobility related project some of the true "right once deploy many" MEAP options will let you pull off a prototyping approach. However depending on the specifics of the project you may not have the luxury to pick the tools or the timeframe. Even when all the stars align how do you effectively gather feedback from your audience?

Along comes a product like Intuito which enables rapid prototyping on device along with useful feedback mechanisms from a cloud solution. I'd previously written a brief article about intuitive prototyping and have since had the opportunity to try the product for myself.

How does it work?
Intuito let me import screen mock-ups and quickly set hot-spots to simulate swipes, clicks, and other user interactions. I took a Power-point mock-up I had from a previous project and exported each slide as an image. In a few minutes I created a working screen flow. To test it a shortened URL was generated and I opened it on my iPhone. I made a few tweaks, retested and within 30 minutes I was happy with my flow and felt comfortable using the Intuito tool.

I should mention that while you can pass around some variables and simulate a number of different interactions Intuito doesn't pretend to be a full blown application builder. You cannot "code" screens and build logic or complex navigation. To be honest for rapid prototyping you probably don't want to. To simulate some user interactions I duplicated a couple of the Power-point slides and changed some data in the mock-ups.

Ok so that's pretty good, but wait there's more. Once happy with my screen flow I was able to create survey style questions for each screen. This allows testers to immediately respond to what they have seen. Intuito also gathers a heat map of where and what users are interacting with. Since it's a simple link you can easily distribute the prototype to a testing group. As the audience use the prototype the feedback is gathered and displayed in a dashboard for analysis.

Incorporate into a Mobile Application Project
The inputs for Intuito are a screen flow concept and screen design mock-ups. To get the best results the inputs require skills like UX/UI/Graphic design and depending on your application may require business and technical specialists. Of course it's worthwhile to temper the design with the technical feasibility of the development tools, device platform, data, etc. The beauty of the prototyping approach of course is that you can rapidly (and cheaply) produce, test, change, and repeat.

When to use
The adage about spending more time on design and less on build rings true. With prototyping tools the focus can be on design without needing to spend so much time. These types of tools can be leveraged in various project phases for example:
  • Part of RFP/RFQ process to build a mock-up that can be quoted on.
  • During the design/blueprint phase to finalise an agreed functional design.
  • Throughout the build phase to prototype traditional blueprint/designs.
  • Ongoing in support/run phases to formalise change requests.