Testing Mobile App Prototypes

Testing Mobile App Prototypes
February 13, 2015 Julian Becerra

When it comes to testing mobile app prototypes, the best rules of thumb are: test everything, test often, and most importantly test as early as you possibly can within your design and development cycle.

prototype_image6Prototypes often come in all shapes and sizes, from quite low-fidelity scribbles on the back of a napkin to high-fidelity, elaborate, highly immersive experiences on a mobile phone or a tablet. This blog post focuses primarily on testing low-fidelity mobile app prototypes; a smart, valuable and affordable way to validate ideas, and ultimately expedite the design and development process of any app.

What’s the best way to test your mobile app prototypes?

prototype_image1Well, it really depends at what step of the process you may be, as various stages provide for an array of testing opportunities. However, these testing opportunities are all equally valuable as they will provide insight and eliminate complexity down the line. If your mobile app is in the ideation stage, design stage, or development stage, the method of testing could vary accordingly.

Here are a few tips for getting your own testing methodologies underway:

1. Start Testing Early

Testing is key at every stage and so this should be introduced early on as a primary guiding principle of any mobile app (iOS, Hybrid or otherwise), web app, any digital product or tool that is to be released for mass consumption into the wild.

2. Provide Visual Cues

Paper prototyping is highly recommended to get ideas out into the public quickly with simple suggestive scribbles for images, high-level navigation, colour highlights to indicate important features, etc. When testing, try to be realistic within your prototypes so that you’re providing a comprehensive amount of information, categorisation or some basic but key functionality. By providing visual cues, the user can begin to get the context of when and how to interact with your app based on the information you include in the prototype.

3. Testing the Test

These tests could be as simple or as complex as you’d like them to be, but make sure that you first test them out yourself with a colleague. This ensures you are testing a comprehensive set of ideas that the user will ultimately understand when interacting with your prototype. There’s nothing worse than hitting a dead-end during a testing session.

4. Cut and Paste Job

Low-fidelity prototyping, like Paper or Wireframe Prototyping allows you to make mistakes early, quickly and resolve these with a simple cut and paste job. By doing so, you can form new theories and conclusions about the test fast, without the need of any heavy lifting upfront.

5. Take Meticulous Notes

As you test, continue to track and record all your results. Changes in future editions of your prototype will give the testing process and your prototype a point of reference and more usability context as the app idea and it’s functionality evolves.

6. Iterative Testing

Testing mobile app prototypes can help a great deal in solidifying ideas, general features, and high-level functionality. This is when you should expect to find hurdles and should allow for a variety of possible solutions when retesting to accommodate for a combination of user scenarios. By doing rounds of tests, you can go from “Proof of Concept” to Version release with a better sense of what your users want, how to present it to them, and how much to present at what stage.

What is the purpose of testing?

prototype_image2Testing is important because it helps make sure you’re not designing and developing in a bubble. Testing and exposing ideas to potential users can answer critical questions, can help resolve team disputes, as well as validate and confirm what content, features or functionality are worth including in your current release, or what is worth saving for the future. Testing could even give you a reality check, by discovering that your idea is just plain rubbish, as it doesn’t fit in to the mental model of the user, it doesn’t address or solve a problem that users face, it isn’t important enough to merit an app, or at least not yet.

prototype_image4Ultimately, testing your mobile apps, web apps, or digital products should help ensure that these work property, that you are fulfilling business needs, market needs but more importantly it is imperative that apps address user goals and needs through a user interface; providing for an easy to use, usable, and immersive experience that improves the lives of those using it.

Julian Becerra
Julian is the Director of Digital Strategy at Graphic Mint.