Depending on your industry, rapid prototyping can mean different things. But to a mobile user experience (UX) professional, it means your job is now worlds better. Seriously, gone are the days when you have to marshal static wireframes in an attempt to (poorly) convey how a mobile app or website will work.
Static wireframes are…well, they’re static. It can be very hard for anyone who didn’t create them to interpret them and to really get the gist of how the finished application will work. They often go hand-in-hand with copious annotations, which might be great documentation but can make the review process quite cumbersome for clients. I think we can all agree: It doesn’t quite represent a typical user experience to have to read through annotations while you use an application.
That’s why we’ve started using Axure RP Pro to produce interactive wireframe and design prototypes. The difference is blowing our mind. To be clear, with this new approach, we are not cutting out the critical steps of documenting app content and process requirements, priority of content, functionality, and navigation. And we’re still using our full “bag of tricks” to produce the caliber of design our clients expect (not limiting ourselves to Axure’s somewhat limited styling options). But the Axure prototyping approach does afford some nice ways to streamline our efforts and otherwise evolve our UX process. Here are just a few ways:
This means you can detect glitches in your approach sooner rather than later, which means you can revamp before you’re too far down the wrong path. When you tap through a wireframe via a prototype on your phone, you can much more readily intuit if something in your flow isn’t quite right, and you can address it promptly. It’s really helpful to be able to more easily visualize where “the fold” falls, too.
One of the sweet features that we are just starting to take advantage of is being able to share files with coworkers. It’s easy to create a shared file (provided you have access to a shared drive somewhere), and through a somewhat-Dreamweaver-like check-in/check-out process for individual screens of your app (or pages of your site), you can work on the same file at the same time.
This one really deserves three exclamation points, IMO. We used to use Visio, and you had to hand-style each piece of text you put into the wireframe, if you didn’t have a usable stencil item for it. Axure lets you create a style and then reuse it as you create new text elements (and when you edit the style, the changes will apply to all type with that style applied – YES!). My one wish is that Axure would let you make derivative styles, so you easily could make an H3 based on an H2, based on an H1, and so forth. Ok, and my second wish is that you could apply all-caps as a style.
Remember the maxim from high school English to “show, don’t tell”? Making an interactive prototype lets you do just that. I can’t lie – I’m still writing a lot of annotations. After all, there will always be important functional requirements to impart to others on your internal team and to document for the client. And while you could spend the time working out the logic to produce complicated dynamic results, it may be more expedient to just write certain annotations, and leave it to a skilled programmer to generate the code. But what you won’t need to do is spend time annotating a lot of the basic interactions!
It doesn’t have to stop with wireframe prototypes. We are producing design prototypes, too, which not only are useful for the client, but I’ve found they also improve my personal creative, iterative process. For now, I’ve stuck to bringing Photoshop slices into Axure as images, rather than using Axure’s design tools to produce page elements. I realize this has some process limitations, but I like the Photoshop control this gives me. With this approach, I can still get a preview of how my font sizes look on an actual phone, whether my button sizing feels right, and once again, where “the fold” falls. If things are not to my satisfaction, I can immediately tweak them in Photoshop and easily update the image in Axure until I get the prototype where I want it. And with Axure’s “Image Map” widget capability, I can still turn my sliced images into interactive screens.
Let me just say this about our first client to view wireframes as an interactive prototype: they were beside themselves. They could really see what they were going to be getting! And they could take it back and demo it to colleagues without having to do a lot of explaining. That makes them look good to their supervisors, and what client doesn’t like that?
At least with Axure, there’s a super-easy way for clients to provide feedback – on a discussion tab, available on the desktop view of the prototype, which the client can access via a link (which you can password-protect, by the way). And there’s a discussion tab for each screen of your app, so clients don’t have to waste time pasting links into an email to try to explain where their comments apply. It also lets multiple clients comment at the same time, and tracks who says what. After our clients provide feedback, I can print out all of the comments, easily tell what screen they relate to, and even write response comments.
I’m not saying we’re doing away with direct client presentations and feedback conversations. No way – the immediate reaction and feedback to an initial presentation is priceless. But these ways of capturing client feedback after-the-fact are proving really useful to us.
Having the interface, requirements, and feedback all in one place is a very nice thing to be able to offer a client. Enough said.
Of course the rapid interactive prototyping process will not be visible to end users, but the results will be. Your app will be much stronger from having been viewed on a mobile phone so early (and often) throughout the process by lots of internal and client stakeholders. This means you get a bunch of testers who can provide valuable feedback that will no doubt result in a better user experience. That sounds like evolution to me.
Evolving our process is an integral part of the Q way of doing business. We will keep an eye out as Axure develops and rolls out new features and versions, as mobile (and desktop web) UX practices evolve in the industry, and as needs and expectations evolve among our clients. For the moment, we hope to see evolution in how Axure facilitates prototyping of responsive design solutions (to date, it doesn’t seem that Axure has a solid way of handling responsiveness). But for now, Axure’s features are going a long way to helping us evolve our process.
Verizon states their Location Based Service (LBS) API offers a resolution of 150m. That figure is conservative in my estimate as I have seen my location on some apps better than 10m. LBS are used for all manner of applications. Outfits like Living Social offer instant deals depending on where you are. These deals seldom inspire me to try the deli on the corner with the dusty ceiling fan. Focusing deals on where you are is cool. Once the cool factor has worn off, the $10 for $20 deal at the dusty deli remains. Not cool. Other than maps and directions, the killer application for LBS still eludes us. The added fidelity of knowing where and who you are at the same time is the ultimate prize.
Jumping into mobile but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone, and articles like this are written for them any marketers out there who are interested in adopting this channel but searching for best practices.
Takeaways: Promotion and messaging – which are among the strategies in the article – are age old marketing principles. But the importance of exclusivity is an important differentiator for mobile and social media marketing efforts. Tailoring promotions, offering “VIP” access and helping members of your audience feel like they are “in on” something unique is an important strategy for successful efforts in this space.
Content marketing is absolutely critical, but where do influencers fit? Do you even know what influencer marketing is? Amanda Maksymiw breaks it down on the Content Marketing Institute blog.
Takeaways: Influencer marketing isn’t new and you may actually already be doing it – marketers have been engaging with the people and groups that their target audience looks to for information for a very long time. But did you know that content marketing and influencer marketing need to work together? The article is full of takeaways, but this line sums it up: “By engaging in ongoing conversations with key bloggers, reporters and other influencers, they will be more apt to share your content and refer to you as a thought leader in the space.” Their insight, behavior and feedback can also inform your approach to content going forward, so don’t ignore this critical audience as you define your marketing plans for 2010!
In our most popular tweeted post from last week, Nate Riggs provides a summary of statistics on QR code adoption and its increasing applicability in the market.
Takeaways: It seems like people have been talking about QR codes for ages, but in the absence of really strong case studies, its touch for a lot of businesses to see where the technology is going and whether it’s worth integrating into their marketing strategies. This article offers several great points to consider before adopting QR codes as a marketing tactic, including creating the right landing page (sending folks to a page that isn’t optimized for mobile is a HUGE don’t) and keeping things simple. Remember, a QR code is intended to be a point of conversion – keep the clutter out.
You’ve probably heard that mobile devices are overtaking PC’s among consumers in terms of purchase preference and Internet use, but how does that translate into advertising spend?
Takeaways: The opening line says it all, “Mobile advertising has reached critical mass and will double this year to reach a total of approximately $1.2 billion.” But what does that mean for your business? If you think it means you should jump on the mobile advertising bandwagon, not so fast. The platform is growing and chances are, your audience is definitely there. However, as the article states, smaller screen real estate, creative limitations, the need for consistent formats and ROI metrics present challenges for mobile advertisers that can’t be ignored. Additionally, ad revenue for mobile advertising is consistently lower than traditional Internet advertising. None of these factors should serve as deterrents from pursuing mobile advertising altogether, but rather than rushing to allocate resources toward mobile advertising, be smart about it and make sure that it is part of a more high-level, multichannel marketing strategy.