A followup on rapid prototyping

In an earlier post, I offered some thoughts on rapid prototyping. I mentioned my preference for the “high-fidelity prototype”, which leaves very little room to the imagination and provides users and stakeholders with a realistic sense of the user experience of the product.

I’ve been using a couple of different rapid prototyping tools and thought I’d offer some opinions on their limitations and what looks promising as I see it.

Rapid prototyping tools

I’ve been using Balsamiq and Axure a fair bit. I think they’re both pretty good tools, but the problem is prototyping and design are subsets of communication and these two tools don’t seem to get that.

You don’t come up with a design in isolation, you need to validate it with users and other stakeholders. For the most part, these tools make it easy to put UIs together, but they have issues when it comes time to send out your work for feedback. The biggest problem I see with both is managing workflows in the review process.

Because they’re desktop based, you need to make all supporting files accessible to your reviewers and provide instructions to them for getting the prototype to look and act like it’s supposed to.

In reality, by the time someone gets to the review, you’ve already made changes. Every time you send out a new iteration, you need to include lots of attachments and send everything out all over again. Getting timely feedback can get so aggravating that you reach a point where you don’t want to bother doing it at all. Major pain.

And then there’s ProtoShare

I got to thinking, “There must be a better solution, even if I have to build it myself”. Then I discovered ProtoShare.

There are several things I really like and admire about ProtoShare – both the company and the tool, including:

  • When you first go to ProtoShare’s website, they talk about design as a form of communication, which I agree with and relate to. They seem to “get it” in that regard.
  • With ProtoShare, I can prototype in a browser but can also link pages to one another. Even though they’re just sketches, at least I’m able to link to them. Axure can do this too, but it’s a desktop tool so everything has to be uploaded somewhere.
  • The killer functionality with ProtoShare is its one-click publishing capability. You can prototype your whole site and then publish it to a live link to be shared with others to get feedback.

Another advantage ProtoShare has against Balsamiq is ProtoShare uses built in Javascripts. Every time I use a Flash or Flex app, it doesn’t feel like a web application because of the way it handles scrolling, right clicks, text highlighting, etc. It’s the “Adobe way” of doing things that, to me, is just plain annoying and doesn’t feel natural.

A few shortcomings

The shortcomings I see with ProtoShare center mostly around pricing.

  • First, it’s not really cheap. The Professional version is $49.99 per month. For that you get up to 3 users and 10GB of web storage. Additional users cost $25 each – every month.
  • If you want to get feedback from someone, that someone needs to be a ProtoShare user. I really don’t see asking my reviewers to become ProtoShare members.
A step in the right direction

While it’s not perfect, I see ProtoShare as taking rapid prototyping to the next level. It’s not just wireframing, it’s really a collaboration and communication tool. Because it’s built in JavaScript, it feels native and not clunky. All in all, I’m a pretty big fan.

1 Response

  • Andrea at ProtoShare // // Reply

    Thank you so much for your review of ProtoShare! The main reason you list as to where other tools fell short of your needs is exactly why we built ProtoShare in the first place. Quick, iterative development based on stakeholder feedback is imperative if you want to get the right requirements before spending too  much time in development.

    In going through some of your other postings, we share a lot of the same philosophies.  Throw out your product specs… is a perfect example. Thanks for sharing your experiences – and we do appreciate customer feedback on our own product as well.

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