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Prototyping in software development and why it’s important

A prototype is essentially an initial model of a product, made to test the components of the original idea. Creating a prototype before going ahead with the real-world product, or putting the idea into mass production, is a way of testing the original concept and understanding where changes or improvements might need to be made. Many products are created with a prototype, from video games to cars and even futuristic robots.

In software development, a prototype can be created to suit a specific need, whether that’s to test one aspect of a digital development or an entire app. Prototypes in this sense can consist of basic level blueprints right through to more advanced, fully interactive, coded products, depending on the requirements.

Why is software prototyping important?

There are many reasons why it’s vital to create a prototype, particularly in this current climate where technology is increasing at speed and the UK government is looking towards a digitally innovative future:

Save time and money

Digital development often comes with high costs and features can take months to create. By making an initial prototype, a developer can identify features that might need more work or those which fail to meet user needs. This way, there’ll be minimal wasted time and effort on the real product.

Visualisation

Often, to be able to engage with a product, you need to be able to see it in its working state. A prototype does exactly that and can even foster a more creative process from the developers who might spot something they otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.

Feedback

A key aspect of creating a software prototype is user feedback. Whatever product is being developed, the user experience is the most important element. Trialling an app with potential customers is one of the best ways to ensure the software fits user needs. Feedback should be collected and reported back to developers to enable a smooth final creation process.

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The different possible prototypes

There are a few different techniques when it comes to software prototyping:

Rapid

This is where a design model is created quickly, with the intention to discard it after testing, or only use a section of it in the real product. It’s often used at the initial stages and there can be multiple rapid prototypes for different aspects of the same product. PCB prototypes are commonly used across rapid techniques, depending on the software requirements, as they provide a fairly cheap and efficient way of testing various functions.

Evolutionary

This is where the prototype adapts and evolves alongside the design. It usually consists of at least some basic coding and lets the user engage and interact, enabling feedback on user experience. Rather than throwing this model away, it often evolves into the real, final product, due to its expansion and continually added functions.

Incremental

This involves looking at each part, or function, individually and giving every section its own prototype. The end goal here is to put each module together to create the final product.

Whichever technique is used, it usually results in an improved, final software product.

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