Communicating objectives

As you’ll have noticed, we’re very keen on software prototyping. We recognise the power that this approach to design can harness, but it’s not all without its pitfalls.

Today, let’s consider one of the pitfalls of software prototyping lest your own project fall foul of it:

“Obsessive visual fixation…”

We’ve seen this before on a number of occasions, and no doubt you’ll have seen it too – in a nutshell, it’s the disproportionate emphasis on the tiniest little visual details at the expense of more important things: “Obsessive visual fixation“. The developer who really fails to think about how usable a screen is because he’s side-tracked with the pixel-precise placement of that drop-down list. Or the executive who constantly meddles with the design team on a quest for her preferred look and feel, even if the prototype is intended purely as a quick proof-of-concept for forms navigation.

The real danger is that because prototypes are incredibly visual, some people get carried away with the importance of the fine details. In a car analogy, it’s like getting fussy about the colour of the paint before the number of doors has been decided.

A skilled prototyping consultant needs to be able to communicate the relative importance of the various aspects of a prototype. He needs to emphasise the primary objectives over the secondary ones – for example, “the aim of this prototype is to compare three alternative sequences of screens for the payment process” – and ensure that the audience of that prototype understands what is important at that stage and what isn’t.

To assume that the audience of a prototype understands its primary objectives is to run the risk of the wrong type of feedback derailing the design process. Which is bad as it is a distraction at best and can create political issues and misleading communication at worst.

So, not only is creating good prototypes important, being able to communicate their objectives clearly is vital if we are to maximise their effectiveness.

About John Clark

My name is John Clark and I previously ran a software house called Reynard Thomson, from which this blog originally grew. In the meantime, we launched a video-based user testing service (Kupima) which didn't really take off, and I have since moved into a new field specialising on software-based research & development consultancy. I'm active on LinkedIn, and would love to connect to anyone who has an interest in software prototyping or R&D:
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2 Responses to Communicating objectives

  1. Samson Gola says:

    What is the primary objective of prototyping?

  2. John Clark says:

    Good question: there are many objectives, but I would argue that the essence of prototyping is as a vehicle to evaluate ideas and designs in a quick, inexpensive way so that they might be refined or rejected iteratively.

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