Software developers know the difficulties and shortcomings of identifying requirements and
translating them into wireframes. Clients have a hard time visualizing how a living, complex application
or platform will function, based on a static, 2D frames.
Even worse, lengthy technical documents filled with detailed software specifications, written by
developers in their own language, can make a person’s head spin. Certainly, these sketchier
wireframes can offer real value for internal teams thinking through a project’s internal structure,
content organization and basic backbone—it’s a way to map out the skeletal structure of the
application before adding on the layers of design, features and other niceties.
In the earliest stages, wireframes can also keep the discussion focused, but they simply can’t
offer the full picture of how a person might interact with an application, and what the app may
do in response.
This is where prototyping comes in.
By bridging collaborative, iterative agile development and the more traditional waterfall approach,
prototyping allows software developers to demonstrate how a finished application will operate using
a nearly realized, functioning design.
This hybrid approach takes the time to gather requirements, requests and interpretations upfront,
like the traditional methodology, and combines it with the adaptability of agile design. That way,
in comparison to just diving in, edits and modifications encountered down the line tend to be quality
improvements, rather than wholesale changes. Like agile development, however, working with a prototype
generally helps make the finished software more user-friendly, as developers and clients can focus on
the most important elements, which can be obscured when one is trying to visualize navigation from
page to page in a printed document.
Prototypes helps to confirm that the product being created achieves the client’s goals, and make it
easier to shed unwanted clutter long before phasing into development. This gives also allows multiple
teams to work concurrently— the front-end team building out the prototype, design and requirements as
the back-end team sets up environments, builds tables and so on.
Ultimately, clients tend to be happier and much more confident, as they can see the project taking
shape from an earlier stage of the process. The benefits are shared by everyone on the team, as full
approval of a working prototype assures fewer surprises as the launch date nears.