Everything You Need to Know About Mobile App Prototyping

Difficulty: Intermediate

Estimated Completion Time: 12 minutes

Building a market-leading product is something that should be given a good deal of thought prior to the development itself. Building a mobile app prototype is an essential phase that some business owners tend to overlook.

Statista reports that about 25% of apps are used only once. It’s difficult to judge which unsuccessful projects went without prototyping. Yet, their number would be much lower if the concepts were validated in the very first stages of their lifecycles.

Let’s find out what solid mobile app prototyping actually is, its types, and the tools developers utilize to create prototypes. Ultimately, let’s answer the question — how to make a prototype of an app that would have all the chances to lead the market?

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Basics of Mobile App Prototyping

App prototyping is a widely accepted approach to validating the development concept. A prototype is a close-enough version of a future app on the basic level. It is most beneficially used in practice in order to:

  • determine the idea’s viability
  • test all potential features
  • avoid common mistakes

It usually comprises the intended UI design, user flow, and, to a certain extent, the planned functionality. 

There are three categories of mobile application prototypes:

Low-Fidelity Prototypes

These are the most basic mobile app prototypes. They are typically presented with hand-drawn sketches on paper or in a digital environment. Each sketch is a distinct screen of the mobile app. You can get an idea of how it is supposed to work by reviewing these sketches.

The purpose of low-fidelity prototypes is to assist designers in making up the initial concept. 

The advantages of low-fidelity app prototyping include:

  • no specialized equipment is required;
  • low-cost approach;
  • no substantial design experience is required;
  • can be produced in the shortest terms.

A low-fidelity mobile application prototype is ideal for brainstorming and planning, leaving room for cost-effective improvements.  

Medium-Fidelity Prototypes

These prototypes can be regarded as the transition between low-fidelity and high-fidelity stages. They are created with the help of specialized tools for prototyping described in the sections below. Yet, a whiteboard or paper may be appropriate as well. 

Medium-fidelity prototypes typically include storyboards, use cases, more complex design solutions, etc. 

The advantages of medium-fidelity prototypes:

  • still cost-effective;
  • enable instant changes if developed with the help of specialized equipment;
  • feature design thinking. 

Medium-fidelity prototypes usually do not produce the polished design concept but help to get a better understanding of what the finished application can look like. 

High-Fidelity Prototypes

High-fidelity prototypes are the best way to gain realistic design experience without even getting to actual coding. These are developed strictly using specialized software since functions and buttons should be added at this stage.

The advantages of high-fidelity prototypes:

  • solid validation of the concept;
  • creation of design concepts with the finest details;
  • best for showing stakeholders.

High-fidelity prototypes are a test version of the end program you are planning to create.

3 Benefits of Mobile App Prototyping

Now, let’s proceed with reviewing the actual benefits mobile application prototyping can bring to your project:

1. Concept Validation

At the end of the day, mobile app prototyping is what helps to validate the viability of the concept. Basically, it’s like testing pieces of a puzzle before assembling it and seeing if it’s correct or not. The main idea of the app, target audience match, and basic and advanced functionalities are only some aspects to be validated with the help of prototypes.

This way, even before the first line of code is written, you can calculate the odds of the app becoming successful.

2. Client and Stakeholder Involvement

Another interesting aspect is that both the client and the stakeholders are more likely to be interested in the project if they see actual concepts. Some companies use high-fidelity prototypes to raise extra funds, and they may abandon projects that have not proved themselves to be viable. 

The developer’s vision usually does not correlate well with the perspective of the stakeholders. The latter group may have concerns regarding experimenting with the project. Alternatively, stakeholders may need some functionalities to be implemented in the first place to benefit the long-term strategy of the project.

Here are some key points regarding the client and stakeholder involvement:

  • stakeholders collect information regarding the strategic perspectives; 
  • stakeholders may help to strengthen the market research;
  • Better support, funding, and allocation of other necessary resources;
  • not doing the same research twice, and not reworking the concept in the latter stages.

The more closely the interested parties are engaged in the process, the better outcomes you can expect.

Sharing the prototypes with both potential customers and stakeholders leaves room for gathering feedback. You can use the reviews and opinions to determine which design choices or functionalities are useful and which are obsolete.

3. Early Stage Modifications

Modifications at the early stage of development will be more accurate and effective with an app prototype in place. By testing new ideas and functionality, prototyping debunks misconceptions and creates a solid foundation for UI and UX designers. It serves as a basis for improving the app concept and developing a final version of a product.

Prototyping an app is a perfect option for those who start from the ground and have a complicated idea in mind. On average, it would take two weeks for designers to develop a prototype version of your app with a detailed UX, enabling stakeholders to have a clear idea of whether an app will be a success.

By prototyping, complex projects can save up to 40% of design costs and speed up the development process up to 20%. Prototyping won’t change the course of your app development. However, it will provide you with information about your app that you can analyze and start writing specification documents earlier.

7 Steps of Prototyping Mobile Applications

Here is an insight into what the prototype building funnel usually looks like:

Step #1: Analyze Your Market

The first stage of every project is analysis. You don’t want to invest your money and time in something no one is currently interested in. So, you should determine what type of app you will be developing, what problem it will resolve, define your target audience (age, gender, and other demographic factors), etc. It is important to know beforehand whether you enter an oversaturated niche with a high-entry threshold that requires bigger budgeting.

Step #2: Frame the Features and Functionality

Ensure you have a clear understanding of the purpose of your application before beginning its development. You must first identify the essential functions of your app. While developing your app, consider if it will cater to all the fundamental needs of the end-user and resolve their problems. 

How to prototype an app so it will be informative and help share your vision? Begin by brainstorming, interviewing, and surveying your target audience to identify the features they desire; write them down. You can sort must-have and good-to-have features later.

Step #3: Bring Your App Ideas to Life with a Hand-Sketch

The initial stages of the process should not involve too much time spent perfecting all the details, as apps often change significantly from their original concept. Creating a low-fidelity wireframe, or even a prototype on paper, which is simply a rough depiction of the app’s layout and screen flow, is an effective way to start. You can then utilize several online tools, such as Moqups, Proto, and UXPin, to give the prototype a more professional appearance.

Step #4: Choose a Digital Tool for Your Prototyping

To simplify the mobile app prototyping process, designers mostly rely on two primary wireframing tools — Figma and InVision Studio. They are user-friendly and offer various features, including the creation of interactive wireframes, mockups, and high-fidelity prototypes.

The resulting prototypes are useful in simulating user interactions with your app. They help you showcase different parts of your app to others, gather feedback on individual screens or overall flow, test designs without coding, and present your ideas to project stakeholders before moving on to the idea’s completion.

Step #5: Transform Your App Idea into a Cutting-Edge Digital Prototype

The next step is transforming your paper wireframe into a valuable tool for your users. How exactly it will look solely depends on your resources. You can create a simple mockup that only will demonstrate static templates and basic features, or you can add animations and most of the functionality, so you can test your app as close to reality as possible — the choice is yours. And while it takes the most time and resources to build an app prototype, you can rest assured the result is worth it.

Step #6: Share a Finalized Prototype With Stakeholders

Once you have developed your prototype, the next step is to gather soliciting feedback from your target audience, developers who will work on actual app development, and other interested parties that can provide valuable insights. 

This process is beneficial for both UX and product marketing teams, as it helps them to identify potential issues and verify product decisions. Prototype testing can prove useful at every stage of the product lifecycle and can be implemented at different points of the design process. It can serve as a helpful indicator of which features are effective or need improvement.

Step #7: Develop Your Application

Now, send all the gathered info to your development team, so they can start building your app and make all the necessary adjustments. Besides, the prototype can be a valuable reference for them, providing insights into the app’s design and functionality.

4 Common Tools for Mobile App Prototyping

1. Figma

One of the best tools for prototyping UX/UI designs, Figma allows for the creation of interactive flows, pitch designs, and communication interactions. Most of the interactivity in Figma is based on the use of libraries with finished icons and buttons. It helps to prototype really fast, with the opportunity to add custom elements over time. The best features of Figma are: 

  • Figma Styles. It allows you to maintain visual consistency throughout your project and standardize the design of your layout.
  • Inspect mode. It’s a key feature that allows you to understand the design of the layout and extract colors, fonts, spacing, and dimensions used. This feature saves time and helps avoid errors in the development process.
  • Components and variants. By using components like buttons, icons, and forms in your Figma mockup, you can also speed up your front-end development workflow and ensure the consistency of your design elements.
  • Image export. You can easily copy the SVG code or export directly from the layout (for icons and vector graphics). 
  • Collaboration. It allows you to leave comments for designers and other members of your team on design elements in real time. Figma makes it easy to share and provide feedback.

Figma has a free starter pack, so you can use it for plugins and templates with unlimited personal files and collaborators. However, if you plan to use Figma professionally, prepare to pay up to $75 per month.

2. Balsamiq

Another good tool for wireframing is Balsamiq. It works best for setting the layout of an app before diving deeper into design concepts. Balsamiq also comes with some pre-designed widgets, making it perfect for building low-fidelity prototyping. The best features are: 

  • access controls
  • customizable templates
  • collaboration tools
  • commenting option
  • brainstorming
  • component library
  • data import and export
  • data linking

When it comes to pricing, Balsamiq offers a one-time payment of $129 for one person for the desktop version and up to $1,990 per year for the Balsamiq Cloud version, depending on the number of projects. 

3. Mockplus 

Mockplus is a great solution for rapid prototyping. It’s a simple mockup tool that allows you to create interactive mobile concepts and test them instantly. The best features of Mockplus are:

  • flexible workflow
  • auto & manual specs
  • page/version comparison
  • document references
  • full-view storyboard
  • pin style
  • compress the size of assets
  • comment tools
  • auto-generated style guides
  • Sketch / PS / XD / Figma / Axure integration
  • preview & share online
  • group projects
  • archive/favorite project  

Compared to other tools, Mockplus can be a bit expensive. Its prices range from $199 per year for an individual user to $9,999 for a perpetual license for enterprise use. 

4. Marvel

Marvel is a robust browser-based prototyping tool. It positions itself as a simple way to turn sketches and mockups into fully-fledged prototypes. The best features of Marvel are: 

  • design and Wireframe
  • developer handoff
  • user testing 
  • collaboration 
  • realistic prototypes without coding
  • adding transitions and gestures.
  • support for every screen.
  • offline downloads. 

Marvel app offers free access for one user for a single project. However, prepare to pay up to $42 per month for a team or request a quote if you are interested in the enterprise package.

4 Top Mobile Prototyping Trends in 2023

Paying attention to detail and checking trends has never been more important. Here is what you should incorporate into your practice in 2023:

1. Microinteractions 

In web design, microinteractions can be a system’s audio or video response to a user’s action like clicking on a button. It’s a small feedback presented as a highly contextual visual change in the UI. Microinteractions make a plain interface more lively and provide a sense of personalization for users. Those micro elements can be:

  • stateful actions (Like/Dislike)
  • navigation transitions
  • pull-to-refresh
  • error input
  • ready for input

Design is all about communication, and microinteractions serve as a vehicle to communicate with the user. They can enrich your product and make the experience delightful.

2. Privacy by Design

Privacy by Design is all about implementing privacy principles in every stage of product development. Its goal is to protect your company from privacy invasions or data breaches by installing proactive privacy management starting as early as the prototype stage. Privacy by Design aligns with privacy legislation laws like GDPR.

3. Realistic Simulations with AR & VR 

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) can be used for prototyping real-world environments. It can help designers test their concepts. AR and VR technologies allow you to convey your ideas to users more effectively and with a lower risk of miscommunication within the team. They are also powerful solutions for interior design apps. 

4. Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping aims to improve your project design and functionality. It involves using multiple short cycles and updates for speedy improvements in design. Examples of rapid prototyping involve:

  • delivery fleet software
  • product stock forecasting
  • sales intelligence dashboard
  • coffee roaster software.

It offers many benefits:

  • quick iterations generate progress
  • focus on improving core features
  • focus design on the end-user
  • tests key customer journeys
  • encourages collaboration and feedback

Rapid prototyping helps find and solve common design issues quicker, improving time to market.

Final Thoughts

Mobile app prototyping is regarded as the validation of the app’s initial concept. A well-done prototype for a mobile application benefits projects in various ways, from simply getting stakeholders’ attention to discovering the potential viability of the digital solution. 

Regardless of what prototyping for a mobile application you require or what tech stack you’d prefer to use, you need a dev company you can entrust your project.

Weelorum is a team of expert developers, QA testers, designers, business analysts, and other specialists. We excel in the creation of mobile prototypes of any complexity and high-end mobile apps. Over the years on the market, we gained an impressive reputation and expertise with the technologies most relevant in the development niche.

Should you need prototyping for mobile apps, the development of digital solutions, or a mere consultation, Weelorum is at your service

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What is app prototyping?

A prototype is a basic mockup comprising the design solutions, planned user flow, and some functionalities. It does not require coding but represents the end mobile application precisely.

Do I always need a mobile app prototype?

Yes, you need to create a prototype app first in any event, except for rare occasions, such as the relaunching of an old, well-known app with minor changes to the design.

How much does application prototyping cost?

App prototyping may require roughly 80-160 hours of work and cost somewhere between $5,000-15,000. But every project is unique. How to make a prototype app that fits your budget perfectly and helps further validate all costs? Turn to experienced pros.

Table of content
Basics of Mobile App Prototyping3 Benefits of Mobile App Prototyping7 Steps of Prototyping Mobile Applications4 Common Tools for Mobile App Prototyping4 Top Mobile Prototyping Trends in 2023Final ThoughtsFAQ
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