Prototyping: what it is and why it’s useful

We mentioned in our end of year roundup that we were developing a prototype of our new programme planning tool for section leaders.

We’ve been testing this with a Community of Interest group and, during those tests, explained the purpose of a prototype within the wider context of the tool’s development.

Prototyping is a crucial part of the design of any modern tool, so we thought we would go into more detail about why.

 

What is a prototype?

A digital prototype usually takes the form of wireframes. Wireframes are simplified designs which help to keep a viewer’s focus on the substance of the product rather than the designer’s visual choices, like which font they used.

Images like this are intended to demonstrate the functionality of a tool. Copy may not be finalised and images may be lacking but the viewer is aware of the purpose of the page.

Where a wireframe becomes a prototype is when a tool links these images together. There are various online services that provide this functionality, such as Marvel, InVision and Axure. We’re using the latter to prototype our digital programme planning tool. Linking wireframes together allows a static page to emulate a functional tool.

 

What is a prototype for?

A prototype is intended to help viewers test what we have designed without distraction. The aim is to see if the user can fulfil their goals on their own. It isn’t the time to critique colours or image choice, hence the rectangular box with an ‘x’ in the middle which acts as a placeholder for an image.

This helps to evaluate ideas and, through testing, to learn what we didn’t know. That lesson could be how people react to the placement of a button, or what users are expecting from your tool. A prototype will help you develop and test the function, as opposed to the visual form.

Because a prototype is not the finished product, it can prove integral to ensuring development is on the right track, before going too far in the wrong direction. Being careful to avoid bias, user engagement through prototyping can help to keep the development of your tool focused on creating a positive user experience.

What next?

Once you have a prototype you and your testers are happy with, you can start to create the visual design, or the form, of your tool.

Creating a digital tool like this means constantly balancing form and function. It is incredibly easy to do one or the other – the hard work is striking the right balance.

To learn more about our digital programme planning tool, or to become part of our digital Community of Interest group to assist with future testing, please get in touch.

 

Comments

  1. Avatar Alan Cruden 30/01/2019 / 2:34 pm

    Why are you making your own version of osm?

    • Avatar James Calmus 02/04/2019 / 8:46 am

      Hi Alan, thanks for your comment – we’ve received a few similar questions to this. Currently we provide badge and activity content across various digital channels and print formats. As part of the digital strategy we are moving to a single platform for all Scouts digital content, including programme activities. At the same time, we want to improve planning functionality for our members, including new volunteers who are looking for a curated programme. The new tool will enable members to quickly plan a balanced programme with content that has been created with members and tested to ensure the activities are safe and fun, whilst supporting our young people to achieve the Challenge Awards. We believe that this tool will work alongside the planning functionality within OSM and that the two systems complement each other and we hope you will think so too, when we release it later this year. If you’ve got any other questions, you can always reach us on digital@scouts.org.uk. Thanks, James.

  2. Avatar Norma Brandon 30/01/2019 / 4:34 pm

    Struggling to understand what you are trying to achieve in a programme planning prototype bearing in mind that OSM is there for leaders to use for programme planning. OSM has activity ideas in too. Is this a tool to use at a programme planning meeting or are you re-inventing functionality already provided via OSM?
    OSM could be enhanced to give standard programmes to achieve the Challenge Awards but that would be moving towards a more rigid programme rather than keeping things flexible to fit in with leaders’ skills and meeting place restrictions

    • Avatar James Calmus 02/04/2019 / 9:08 am

      Hi Norma, thanks for your comment – we’ve received a few similar messages. Currently we provide badge and activity content across various digital channels and print formats. As part of the digital strategy we are moving to a single platform for all Scouts digital content, including programme activities. At the same time, we want to improve planning functionality for our members, including new volunteers who are looking for a curated programme. The new tool will enable members to quickly plan a balanced programme with content that has been created with members and tested to ensure the activities are safe and fun, whilst supporting our young people to achieve the Challenge Awards. We believe that this tool will work alongside the planning functionality within OSM and that the two systems complement each other and we hope you will think so too, when we release it later this year. If you’ve got any more questions or if you’d like to get involved in testing our tool to learn more about it, you can get in touch via digital@scouts.org.uk. Thanks, James.

  3. Avatar Andy Loring 30/01/2019 / 11:28 pm

    Why are you creating a new programme planning tool when OSM already does a pretty decent job of it (complete with thousands of programme activity ideas)?

    • Avatar James Calmus 02/04/2019 / 9:09 am

      Hi Andy. Thanks for commenting, we have received similar comments relating to OSM. Currently we provide badge and activity content across various digital channels and print formats. As part of the digital strategy we are moving to a single platform for all Scouts digital content, including programme activities. At the same time, we want to improve planning functionality for our members, including new volunteers who are looking for a curated programme. The new tool will enable members to quickly plan a balanced programme with content that has been created with members and tested to ensure the activities are safe and fun, whilst supporting our young people to achieve the Challenge Awards. We believe that this tool will work alongside the planning functionality within OSM and that the two systems complement each other and we hope you will think so too, when we release it later this year. You can reach us at digital@scouts.org.uk if you have more questions or if you’d like to get involved in testing our tool to learn more about it. Thanks, James.

  4. Avatar Richard Hunter 31/01/2019 / 6:18 am

    This is really interesting, but is there an explanation:

    A) why TSA are not working with OSM? and

    B) if working with OSM is not an option, why they don’t spend the digital budget working on things that don’t overlap with OSM?

    We probably sound like broken records, banging on about OSM, but without a detailed, frank explanation of the hangup, we’re going to just keep bringing it up. Apologies if that explanation has been posted and I missed it.

    • Avatar James Calmus 02/04/2019 / 9:16 am

      Hi Richard. Thanks for commenting – we have received some similar comments. Currently we provide badge and activity content across various digital channels and print formats. As part of the digital strategy we are moving to a single platform for all Scouts digital content, including programme activities. At the same time, we want to improve planning functionality for our members, including new volunteers who are looking for a curated programme. The new tool will enable members to quickly plan a balanced programme with content that has been created with members and tested to ensure the activities are safe and fun, whilst supporting our young people to achieve the Challenge Awards. We believe that this tool will work alongside the planning functionality within OSM and that the two systems complement each other and we hope you will think so too, when we release it later this year. You can reach us at digital@scouts.org.uk if you have further questions, or if you’d like to take part in testing our tool. Thanks, James.

  5. Avatar Jonathan Bloor 02/02/2019 / 9:21 am

    I get prototyping and it is a useful process. However, I am wondering why reinvent the programme planning wheel when OSM does that well and integrates with the rest of the admin tasks the leaders need to do.

    • Avatar James Calmus 02/04/2019 / 9:17 am

      Hi Jonathan, thanks for your comment. We’ve received similar messages regarding our programme planning tool. Currently we provide badge and activity content across various digital channels and print formats. As part of the digital strategy we are moving to a single platform for all Scouts digital content, including programme activities. At the same time, we want to improve planning functionality for our members, including new volunteers who are looking for a curated programme. The new tool will enable members to quickly plan a balanced programme with content that has been created with members and tested to ensure the activities are safe and fun, whilst supporting our young people to achieve the Challenge Awards. We believe that this tool will work alongside the planning functionality within OSM and that the two systems complement each other and we hope you will think so too, when we release it later this year. You can always email us at digital@scouts.org.uk if you have more questions, or if you’d like to get involved in the testing of our tool. Thanks, James.

  6. Avatar alantiller12 21/02/2019 / 10:42 pm

    This program planning tool looks really nice, i’d love to get involved with the testing!

    • Avatar James Calmus 02/04/2019 / 9:38 am

      Hi Alan – that’s great to hear! If you send your details to digital@scouts.org.uk we’ll add you to our digital testers group and let you know when we have some testing coming up. James

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