We’ve come a long way since the “old days” of software development. Before rapid application development or extreme programming, a developer went through a variation of the following flow:
- You would initiate a waterfall process methodology and get all your structures in a row.
- You would start the process with a requirements-gathering session. In this session, you guide the client via questions through describing how the system would act and interact.
- Then, you would analyze and write up the requirements in a structured language into a specification document.
- From that specification document, you would then get a designer or information architect involved to start building a wireframe and site map. If you did some really fancy information architecture, you would likely look at adding some intentional user experiences and other information architecture artifacts to the process.
- Finally, you would consider whether it was fruitful to do a prototype from this work.
This process may sound onerous. However, it was far easier to describe a system using words than it was to build out a prototype. The prototyping process required just as much effort as developing the system itself. Nonetheless, prototyping was becoming a very important part of project planning and software development. Especially as “Agile” methodologies were beginning to take off.
Cut to today and we’ve come a long way since the scenario described. Given the growth in demand for enterprise mobile application development, we now have some great mobile app prototype tools on the market and I want to talk a little bit about three of them.
3 Mobile App Prototype Tools You Need To Know
Starting every project with a prototype drastically increases your chances of success while minimizing errors in interpretation. In doing so, prototyping safeguards against risks that end up having associated project costs. Prototyping phase of software project development maximize budget and minimize errors. This prototype will then drive future planning and future system description.
There are many different mobile app prototype tools out there. However, I’m going to talk about three that are fairly industry standard. I will be doing the trick allowing a designer to rapidly prototype design. This will also allow him/her to create the navigation and forms for the total system user experience.
InVision is both a mobile app prototyping tool and a workflow platform created for designers. It comes with a variety of useful features such as real-time design representation, and LiveShare, a collaboration tool that enables you to transform your design meetings.
Through LiveShare, you can have real-time design presentations. It is easy to use, enabling you to upload individual designs and including hotspots that turn static screens into attractive, clickable prototypes. It is also equipped with a variety of animations and transitions.
Among InVision’s defining features, it is worth mentioning the possibility of creating interactive prototypes that come with an array of effects. Advanced, state-of-the-art animations and transitions are made readily available to the user. Additionally, users have also been satisfied with the control and sync option, which maintains the prototypes updates. In this direction, the tool is equipped with guided product tours, which means that you can use this mobile app prototype tool to show users how you intend the prototypes to be viewed.
You can also benefit from unlimited, free user testing of prototypes directly from an iPhone. Finally, InVision provides you with unlimited video and audio capture of users testing the prototypes.
In its free version, this mobile app prototyping tool only allows you to create one project at a time – a problematic issue when you need to work on multiple projects. There is a way around this, i.e. by creating several accounts, but this too can be onerous and difficult to keep track of.
Another feature that is missing from the free version is the ability to share your work via download. Right now, you are able to share it through text, email, or URL, but you have to upgrade to the full version of this mobile app prototyping tool in order to gain the ability to share through download.
Keep in mind that, like any new program, InVisionApp may present a different interface than the one you are used to. The tools, for example, are placed at the bottom of the screen instead of the top and there are other changes as well, so it requires you to get used to it.
Balsamiq is a mobile app prototyping tool that is useful for sketching user interfaces for both mobile and web applications. This service enables users to create new, innovative mockups and effortlessly share them with clients or team members. Balsamiq Mockups allows the designer to organize pre-build widgets by the use of a drag and drop editor.
The drag and drop components enable efficiency, which any user will find extremely helpful. The tool also comes with reusable symbols, namely the creation of masters, templates, and replicable component libraries. Another essential feature of the app is its built-in user interface, icons, and control. On top of that, Balsamiq encompasses sketchy wireframes whose objective is ensuring functionality. This service is primarily used by programmers and designers to construct mockups. Mockups take little of your time, allowing you to refine the designs as needed. Quite simply, this ability gives you more time for writing code, making this tool perfect for agile teams.
Unlike most other programs of its kind, Balsamiq doesn’t seem to be created with more than one user in mind. This tool does not offer the ability to have multiple users working on the same project, which is a drawback when you consider that you will likely need other opinions or input.
Unlike InVision, on Balsamiq, you cannot share your work directly with other people. So, if you work for someone else or with someone else, you would have to first export the project and send it via email. This is time-consuming and inefficient, but it wouldn’t affect individual work, just shared work.
If you are planning on working in collaboration with other users, each user would need to get their own license, which considerably drives up the overall price of the software used on the project.
The JustInMind tool is assumed to make the entire process of prototyping easier and faster. Its aim is to simplify the creation of prototypes for web browsers, Android, iPhone, iPad, and Blackberry, without the use of code.
JustInMind is quick to install and fulfills all the needs you may require from a mobile app prototyping tool. It is user-friendly and elaborate, allowing you to get into the hang of it without much confusion. JustInMind includes a myriad of templates, widgets, as well as a handful of drag-and-drop features. These are all useful in constructing prototypes in the exact way you want them. It also allows you to build in custom logic on how the app should behave based on varying inputs. You can get quite details in the logic prototyping with JustInMind.
When it comes to visual design, you can outline the formatting details specific to your design. One can build gradients by using a combination of colors, as well as other gradients and shadows. You can also adjust images just the way you want them, by cropping, resizing, rotating and so on.
JustInMind enables you to share and collaborate in real time, similarly to InVision. You can share mockups, and get comments in real time, as well as discuss feedback with team members. While using JustInMind, you benefit from an extensive library encompassing the shapes and templates you need for prototyping fast and efficiently.
JustInMind is a program that needs to be downloaded and installed. In addition, you can’t find out about possible incompatibility issues until you actually install the mobile app prototyping tool. You also have to learn a scripting language to be able to implement the logic set, and that can be a little daunting. You need some level of technical skill if you’re going to use JustInMind’s scripting and logic features.
While the interface is sleek and modern, it can look a little daunting, and, just like in the case of InVision, there is a learning curve involved until you familiarize yourself with the program. It doesn’t necessarily take long, but it is something to consider.
What is more, the free version you download is not even close to offering a complete experience of this program. Case in point: the free version gives you access to less than half of the features available in the “PRO” version.
What to Look For in a Mobile App Prototype Tool?
These are three of the current mobile app prototyping tools that I think are pretty good. The list may change over time as newer, more technologically sophisticated products come out, but, in the meantime, here’s what I would look for in a good prototyping tool:
- Does it have an easy, intuitive drag and drop form building feature?
- Is it easy to design user flow?
- Does it have good workflow for getting feedback?
The mobile app prototyping tool I use most often is the one I believe is most user-friendly – and that is InVision. The InVision tool is really intuitive and has a great design and user experience. You are able to add your creative design and have that reflected fairly easily inside the prototype. You can also get a prototype to market relatively quickly using this tool.
Balsamiq is good if you’re looking to build mockups more than a full prototype. If you’re looking for more wire framing than design inside your prototype, then Balsamiq is a good fit.
The only time I would use JustInMind is if you really need to see some business logic working within the prototype. If you want your users to be able to input data into the prototype or input field data and have various actions happen based on these data fields then JustInMind is the tool for you. It does, however, require more technical skill to use as it has its own scripting language to learn. JustInMind is also more clunky and a little bit harder to learn. Nonetheless, it’s the only tool that really allows you to build good logic and branching inside your prototype.
Being able to prototype before you build a product is essential in modern Internet product development. Currently, the approach is to start with building a prototype and then use that prototype to try to drive the requirements gathering sessions and build out the use cases and the user stories, and define the acceptance criteria. This process will help you get your product to market faster and help you save time and money by flushing out the system behavior and user experience before you start the programming process. Using the right mobile app prototyping tool will help you decrease your time to market and increase your overall user experience.