Thanks to tools like Invision and Sketch, prototyping a mobile app can get you a lot closer to a finished product than the days of wireframes and storyboards. With these tools, mobile developers and designers can transform mockups into interactive, working drafts that key stakeholders and even future users can weigh in on. It’s the perfect opportunity to get critical feedback earlier on, experiment, and make tweaks before development has even begun.
Prototypes don’t just give you a live preview of how your app will work, however—they also make it less likely you’ll procrastinate on important steps like user testing. That said, what else should you do at this juncture to get your app closer to development?
If you’re prototyping a mobile app and aren’t sure what to do next, here are three logical next steps to help you get your app to the next level, sooner.
1. Tighten Up Your UI/UX Design
You have a prototype with screens, navigation, menus, user journeys, and goals—but chances are, they could be fine-tuned. Don’t wait until your app is in the App Store to get feedback on usability and appearance; now’s the time to have a pro weigh in.
When it comes to how users interact with your app, there are three tightly intertwined areas of design: user experience (UX), user interface (UI), and visual design. Because UX and UI design are often bundled together, we’ll tackle these at the same time.
If your app is complex with numerous features and flows, or it needs to be very easy to understand, with simple, straightforward actions (e.g., choosing a driver on Uber), it’s a good idea to engage a skilled UX designer. They’ll give valuable guidance to optimize your app’s functionality, integrate features like geolocation and social APIs for a more immersive experience, and create shortcuts to drastically reduce the time it takes users to find their way around.
Tip: It’s possible you’ll need a designer for each of these disciplines, or you may find a pro to help you with all three. Whatever your approach, it’s important that design happens holistically. Use a visual collaboration tool to let designers comment on mockups as they evolve.
2. Fine-Tune Mobile-First Visual Design
Visual design can impact usability and vice versa, so expect a tight feedback loop as you address these three areas. With UI and UX design comes graphic design—the imagery and branded elements that really bring your prototype to life. You’ll want to engage a designer to pull together visuals like your color scheme, forms, navigation prompts, shadows, menus, and buttons. The designer should exercise some UI expertise here, taking into consideration how things like typography, whitespace, and color contrast play into legibility and ease of use.
“Mobile-first” design prioritizes design of a site or app for the smaller real estate offered by mobile devices—and the unique ways we interact with them. Be sure your designer is aware of the user goals for your application that your UX and UI design encourage so they can implement these goals through their design. It will be about first impressions, yes, but the design will also be about connecting with the user and what they’re in your app to accomplish. Brian Sheridan of FluidUI.com writes, “The task of a designer is to present the app in such a refined manner that it gains instant focus and looks vibrant.”
Additionally, because so much of mobile design is dictated by the guidelines of the platforms and devices—Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, and Android’s Material Design, for example—it’s helpful to engage a mobile designer who’s familiar with the platform you’re developing for. A well-designed UI can be the difference between rejection or acceptance into the App Store or Google Play.
Tip: Start by drafting up some mobile design specifications, including which devices and corresponding screen sizes and resolutions they’ll need to accommodate. If you need a designer to create elements like icons, logos, your splash screen, now’s the time to build these assets so they’re ready to go when it’s time to code the UI.
3. Optimize With User Testing Feedback
User testing should never be overlooked, and is best addressed sooner rather than later. Once design is in progress, make sure it resonates with your target audience and looks how you want it to on compatible devices. It’s better to be wrong when mistakes are easier to fix, rather than later when changes can be costly and time-consuming.
If a feature central to your app’s functionality proves confusing or hard to use, you’re better off reworking it now, before you’ve invested development time in it. User testing of your prototype—whether it’s A/B testing to fine-tune designs or manually running through each screen of your app to catch bugs—will decrease the likelihood you’ll be patching bugs close to launch.
Tip: User testing should be equal parts aesthetic and technical, determining how enjoyable it is to use your app and also detecting any bugs that need fixing. Start with a benchmark test, then go into problem discovery, preference tests, and finally, test your app against competitor apps.