Five Lessons Learned from Prototyping

Five Lessons Learned from Prototyping-01

At Artisan E-Learning, we work with our clients to craft their own custom solution for their courseware needs.  When doing this type of custom work, a prototype helps to make sure everyone has a shared vision and likes the direction—before committing too much time or effort into full production. If you’re like us, you learn lessons about both the client and about your process during prototyping. Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned over the years.

1. Remember why you’re doing it.

Click here to read my post from January 2013 about the benefits of prototyping. You’re going through this process because it saves time in the long run, it can streamline the project, it can be user-tested, and it can show progress.

Sometimes the review and editing process for prototypes can seem like it will never end–but your project may be better for it. Getting as many of the tough decisions out of the way up front can really help to simplify the project process. For example, we recently completed a prototype for a technical course that will have a lot of diagrams.  The prototype included a diagram representing the transmission of data. The client pointed out a small tweak that needed to be made to make the representation more accurate.   Since that same data transmission element was likely to appear throughout the course, we were glad we had that discussion during the prototype phase…and not after we had built 20 variations.

2. Conduct a live review with the client.

If the client is available to have live review meetings, you can get some great feedback that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Seeing their face or hearing their voice when they see the way something is conveyed the first time can be a great indicator of how well (or poorly) you met their vision.

Reviewing the prototype live also lets you keep everything on schedule from the beginning. For clients, finding time in their schedule to review something can be more difficult than the actual review itself. So take the time to meet with them and get ALL their feedback in one sitting.

3. Include as many different types of screens as possible.

Remember that the benefits of prototyping include time savings and streamlining. The more design concepts you’re able to include in the prototype, the more feedback you get. We typically include at least one (often a few) of each of the following slides: menu, teaching, click-to-reveal, drag-and-drop, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and results.

We recommend not including the introduction to a course in the prototype. The introduction isn’t generally representative of the entire course. We generally pick a chunk of content in the middle of the course. And slides in the prototype don’t need to be consecutive as they would need to be in the full course.

4. Focus reviews on feel, functionality, and graphic design–NOT on content.

When your client finally sees your vision for their content come to life, it’s really easy for them to get caught up in the content rather than what you really need them to look at, which is the look and feel, the functionality of the course. That’s not to say that the content piece isn’t important (how could it not be?), but remember that the prototype is designed to fine-tune the entire development process, not just the content piece. The content doesn’t NEED to be perfect to garner the benefits of a prototype. But be careful how you explain that to your client! And if content issues come up, log them and address them when you move into full production.

5. Let it go.

As with anything that someone is going to see for the first time, be careful not to be married to your initial design. Remember, this prototyping process is to work out as many kinks as possible as early as possible. Having everything (color scheme, imagery, functionality, audio) change during prototype is IDEAL compared to having it all change after the alpha or beta. Change is good–that means you have stakeholders who have a vision and are willing to articulate that to you. Use that to create an even better product!

If you have any additional thoughts, let us know! Happy prototyping!

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