03 Apr

Experience Prototyping

Earlier, I posted an article introducing testing. To summarize it, testing is an essential process for ensuring quality, identifying defects, validating functionality, and improving current products/services or creating new ones. Testing also serves as a crucial tool in the development lifecycle, providing insights into the performance, reliability, and usability of software or systems. By systematically evaluating various aspects, testing helps mitigate risks, enhance user experience, and meet business objectives.

In this blog post, we will explore Experience Prototyping as a testing method, examining its principles, applications, and benefits. If you’d like to read it in another language, simply click on the flag below this post, and the text will be translated into your preferred language.

Overview of Experience Prototyping

Experience prototyping is a form of prototyping that enables design team members, users, and clients to gain first-hand appreciation of existing or future conditions through active engagement with prototypes (Buchenau & Suri, 2000). It involves creating a simulation of the product, service, or space that can be directly experienced by users and stakeholders. Experience prototypes are representations of design ideas that allow for direct interaction and experimentation.

Key terms of Experience Prototyping are:

  • Fidelity: The level of detail and functionality of the prototype, from low-fidelity (simple, abstract) to high-fidelity (detailed, interactive).
  • Scope: The breadth of the experience being prototyped, from a single feature to an end-to-end user journey.
  • Medium: The materials and tools used to create the prototype, such as paper, digital mockups, or physical models.

So in other words, experience prototypes can range from low-fidelity mockups using paper and cardboard to high-fidelity functional prototypes that closely mimic the final product. The key is that users can interact with them in a way that simulates the actual experience of using the product or service. This allows designers to observe user behaviors, gather feedback, and identify usability issues early in the development process.

Read more about the Prototype subject and the different levels of prototype fidelity here.

Elements that can be tested with experience prototyping

Let’s now explore the main subject further. Experience prototypes enable testing of various aspects of a product or service, such as:

  • User interactions, workflows, user flows and task completion
  • Information architecture and navigation
  • Visual design and branding
  • Content, microcopy and messaging
  • Functionality, ergonomics, physical form factors and features
  • Emotional responses and user satisfaction
  • Accessibility and inclusive design
  • Omnichannel experiences across touchpoints (Gibbons, 2017)

By creating interactive simulations, designers can evaluate how well the product meets user needs and expectations across these different dimensions (Camburn et al., 2017). Experience prototyping is particularly useful for assessing the usability and desirability of novel or complex systems where user behaviors are difficult to predict.

Assessing feasibility, desirability and viability

In addition to evaluating the user experience, experience prototyping can also help assess the feasibility, desirability, and viability of product requirements.

  • Feasibility refers to whether the product can be built within technical, resource, and time constraints. Experience prototypes allow designers to identify potential technical challenges and assess the effort required to implement different features (Lim et al., 2008).
  • Desirability relates to whether the product is appealing and valuable to users. By letting users directly interact with prototypes, designers can gauge their emotional responses and level of engagement. This feedback helps determine which features are essential to the user experience and should be prioritized.
  • Viability considers whether the product aligns with business goals and can succeed in the market (Krug, 2014). Experience prototypes enable stakeholders to envision the final product and assess its market potential. They can also be used to test pricing models and gather data to support business cases (Xu & Fang, 2022).

Limitations of experience prototyping

While experience prototyping offers many benefits, it also has some limitations:

  • Creating high-fidelity prototypes can be time-consuming and resource-intensive (Bank & Cao, 2015)
  • Prototypes may not fully capture all aspects of the final product experience
  • User feedback from prototypes may not always predict real-world behaviors, so it’s is based on a simulation, not real-world usage.
  • Over-reliance on prototypes can limit exploration of alternative design directions
  • Prototypes can set unrealistic expectations if not properly managed
  • It may not uncover all edge cases or technical issues.

Therefore, it’s important to carefully scope prototyping efforts and use them in combination with other research and evaluation methods (Lauff et al., 2018).

Preparing for experience prototype testing

Before conducting experience prototype testing, several steps should be taken to ensure effective sessions:

  • Define clear research objectives and questions to guide prototype development and testing.
  • Identify target users and recruit representative participants.
  • Determine the appropriate fidelity level for prototypes based on research goals and resources.
  • Create test scenarios and tasks that cover key product interactions and user goals.
  • Establish evaluation criteria and metrics to assess prototype performance.
  • Prepare test environments and equipment, such as recording devices and observation rooms.
  • Conduct pilot tests to refine prototypes, scenarios, and data collection methods (Krogstie, 2012).

By thoroughly planning and preparing experience prototype tests, designers can gather valuable insights to inform design decisions.

How to conduct experience prototype testing

Experience prototype testing typically follows these steps:

  1. Introduction: Welcome participants and explain the purpose of the testing session. Have them sign necessary consent forms.
  2. Background questions: Ask about the participant’s relevant experiences, behaviors, and expectations to provide context for their feedback.
  3. Prototype walkthroughs: Guide the participant through interacting with the prototype, following pre-defined scenarios and tasks. Avoid leading questions or behaviors that may bias their actions.
  4. Observation: Carefully observe how the participant engages with the prototype, taking notes on their behaviors, comments, and body language. Where appropriate, ask probing questions to gain deeper insights.
  5. Feedback: After the interaction, gather the participant’s overall impressions, likes, dislikes, and suggestions for improvement. Use open-ended questions to elicit qualitative feedback.
  6. Quantitative measures: Administer any rating scales, questionnaires or performance metrics relevant to research goals, such as time on task, success rates, and satisfaction scores.
  7. Wrap-up: Thank the participant, provide any incentives, and explain next steps in the design process (Hannington & Martin, 2012).
  8. Following all the preceding steps, proceed if needed with (high fidelity) prototype testing sessions, analyzing the data to identify common patterns, usability issues, and areas for improvement (Farrell, 2017).


Finalizing experience prototyping

Once experience prototype testing is complete, researchers should take the following steps to conclude the process:

  • Synthesize findings: Review data from all test sessions to identify key insights, recurring themes, and areas for improvement. Create summary reports highlighting major takeaways.
  • Prioritize issues: Rank identified usability problems by severity and importance. Focus on critical issues that prevent users from accomplishing their goals.
  • Recommend solutions: Propose design changes to address problems and enhance the user experience. Justify recommendations with user quotes and test data.
  • Communicate results: Share findings with the product team through presentations, reports, and design critiques. Use visuals and storytelling to convey user experiences and build empathy.
  • Plan next steps: Determine how to incorporate insights into the next design iteration. Prioritize changes based on feasibility, impact, and alignment with product goals (El-Zanfaly, 2015).
  • Conduct further testing as needed.

By effectively analyzing and acting upon experience prototype test results, designers can drive meaningful improvements to product usability and user satisfaction.

Tips for successful experience prototyping

To ensure successful experience prototype testing, consider the following best practices:

  • Start always with clear goals: Define specific research questions to guide prototyping efforts and keep the team focused.
  • Involve users early and often: Engage users throughout the prototyping process to gather feedback and validate design decisions.
  • Use appropriate fidelity: Choose the right level of prototype fidelity based on research goals, stage of development, and available resources. Start if it can, with low-fidelity prototypes and gradually increase fidelity as the design evolves.
  • Simulate realistic conditions: Strive to create test environments and scenarios that closely match real-world user contexts. So use realistic content and data in prototypes to make the experience authentic.
  • Embrace iteration: Use insights from testing to continually refine and improve prototypes, gradually increasing fidelity and functionality (Camere & Bordegoni, 2015; Pernice, 2016).
  • Embrace also an iterative mindset and be open to changing the design based on feedback (Nunnally & Farkas, 2017)

By following these guidelines, design teams can maximize the value of experience prototyping and create products that effectively meet user needs.

Things to avoid in experience prototyping

When conducting experience prototype testing, watch out for these common pitfalls:

  • Overcomplicating prototypes with unnecessary features or fidelity that distract from core research questions
  • Using leading questions or biasing participant behaviors through moderator actions or prototype design
  • Failing to capture important user quotes, observations, and behavioral nuances during test sessions
  • Focusing too heavily on aesthetic details in early-stage prototypes at the expense of functional usability
  • Neglecting to consider the full context of user experiences, including offline behaviors and long-term product usage (Laubheimer, 2017)

Also keep in mind:

  • Don’t use jargon or technical terms that participants may not understand
  • Avoid asking leading questions that bias responses
  • Don’t argue with participants or defend the design when receiving critical feedback
  • Avoid testing too much at once – focus on key interactions and flows (Hanington & Martin, 2019)

Engaging stakeholders in experience prototyping

Actively involving stakeholders is crucial to the success of experience prototyping efforts. To effectively engage stakeholders:

  • Identify key stakeholders: Determine which individuals or groups have a vested interest in the product’s success or can influence design decisions. This may include executives, marketing teams, developers, and customer-facing staff.
  • Communicate goals and plans: Clearly explain the purpose and process of experience prototyping to secure stakeholder buy-in. Outline how their involvement will contribute to creating better products.
  • Invite participation: Encourage stakeholders to observe user testing sessions or even interact with prototypes themselves. This builds empathy and shared understanding of user needs.
  • Share results: Regularly communicate insights and recommendations from prototype testing through engaging presentations and reports. Highlight key user stories and connect findings to business goals.
  • Solicit feedback: Actively seek stakeholder input on prototype designs and testing plans. Consider their unique perspectives and expertise to refine the approach (Trischler et al., 2018).

By treating stakeholders as partners in the experience prototyping process, designers can foster alignment, mitigate risks, and drive informed decision-making.

Experience prototyping examples

  1. Rapid prototyping of a mobile app:
    • To test the usability of a new mobile banking app, designers create a high-fidelity interactive prototype using a tool like InVision or Figma. They recruit target users for testing sessions where participants complete key tasks, such as checking account balances, transferring money, and paying bills. Researchers observe user behaviors, gather feedback, and identify areas for improvement before launching the app (de Vries, 2022).
  2. Bodystorming a new museum exhibit:
    • When designing an immersive museum exhibit about space exploration, the team conducts bodystorming sessions to explore visitor experiences. They use physical props and mockups to act out different interaction scenarios, such as entering a spacecraft or manipulating a rover arm. Through role-playing and observation, designers gain insights into ergonomics, flow, and engagement to refine the exhibit design (Schleicher et al., 2010).
  1. Testing a service prototype for a hotel:
    • A hotel chain wants to pilot a new mobile concierge service for guests. Service designers create a low-fidelity prototype using a messaging app to simulate interactions between guests and the concierge. They test the prototype with real hotel guests, gathering feedback on the service’s usefulness, responsiveness, and overall experience. Insights from testing inform iterations on the service concept and requirements before full-scale implementation (Blomkvist & Holmlid, 2011).

By employing experience prototyping methods across diverse contexts, from digital products to physical spaces and services, designers can gain valuable user insights to create more effective and engaging solutions.

Additional examples of usage.

Experience prototyping can be applied to create a variety of new products and services across different domains. For example, designers could use experience prototyping to develop a new smart home system by creating prototypes that simulate the interactions between various connected devices and user interfaces (Xu & Fang, 2022). They could test how users control and monitor different aspects of their home environment, such as lighting, climate, security, and entertainment systems. This would allow gathering insights to refine the user experience before launching the product.

Another example could be using experience prototyping to design a new self-service kiosk for a quick-service restaurant. Designers could build low-fidelity prototypes of the kiosk interface and test how customers order food, customize meals, and complete payments (Camburn et al., 2017). By observing users interacting with the prototypes, the team could identify usability issues and optimize the workflow before manufacturing the final kiosks.

Experience prototyping could also aid in creating a new virtual reality (VR) training simulation for industrial workers. Designers could develop VR prototypes that let users experience different job scenarios, such as operating machinery or responding to emergencies (Horvat et al., 2019). Testing these prototypes would reveal opportunities to improve the simulations’ realism, instructional effectiveness, and overall training value.

Experience prototyping can further be leveraged to enhance existing offerings. For instance, designers could use prototyping to test enhancements to a company’s e-commerce website or mobile app (Clatworthy, 2011). They could create prototypes with new features like augmented reality product previews, streamlined checkout flows, or personalized recommendations. User testing would then guide which updates provide the best experience before implementation.

Similarly, experience prototyping could drive improvements to a ride-sharing service’s user experience. Prototypes could simulate new capabilities like integrated transit trip planning, real-time vehicle tracking, or in-app tipping (Camburn et al., 2017). Testing would uncover how to optimize the features to increase ease of use and customer satisfaction.

For physical spaces like retail stores or museums, experience prototyping could evaluate potential layout and design modifications. Prototypes recreating new store configurations, product displays, or wayfinding systems could be tested with patrons to assess the impacts on foot traffic, engagement, and overall customer experience (Schleicher et al., 2010).


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