The business value of prototyping & usability testing

Will Grounds
Published March 12, 2021 by Will Grounds – Creative & UX Director
A diagram of the google venture 5 day design sprint process
Google Ventures five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers

A digital prototype is simply a rough approximation of a product or experience, typically created to test and evaluate assumptions made during the early phase of a project. Over the last few years organisations are starting to see just how powerful a process this is, allowing teams to quickly fast-forward into the future to see their finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments.

We use prototyping extensively at dotcentric to test digital concepts with customers early on in our design process to quickly validate market fit and improve the usability of the solutions we deliver. 

In this post I want to outline the benefits of prototyping and usability testing and share some examples of how we use this process to help our clients make informed decisions about the future of their digital initiatives.

Who remembers the days when user experience decisions were sometimes decided by either the most important stakeholders on the clients team or the design agency delivering the project, only to find out after launch that the solution is delivering a frustrating user experience? This now mildly famous 2019 statistic comes to mind here regarding the extent of failed digital initiatives. While there are numerous reasons for digital failure, not getting the right level of customer input is still sadly a key issue.

While it's true that good digital and product teams can deliver great customer experiences by using data and intuition, without customer involvement you can get it wrong, and when you get it wrong it can be a very time consuming and expensive problem to fix that can also have a significant effect on brand reputation. 

The benefits of prototyping and testing are actually very simple 

  • At the earliest stages of a project, you find out how valuable your digital proposition will be to your customers.
  • You do not waste significant resources and time developing solutions that your customers don’t want or won’t use.
  • Before beginning a large or complex development project you have a higher level of confidence that the user experience you are building will deliver the expected results.
  • You quickly gain valuable insights about how real users would actually use your product or service alongside which features add the most value.

From simple paper prototyping to fully clickable high-fidelity wireframes there are lots of ways to quickly and efficiently test out ideas with your customers before writing a single line of code. At dotcentric we are strong advocates of Google Venture's design print process and believe you should be able to design and test any prototype within one working week. 

Below are a few examples of how we use prototyping and user testing to help our clients make decisions quickly and effectively about the future of their products and services.

Using paper to prototype quickly and efficiently

Whilst working with the Nursing and Midwifery Council to help them improve the user experience of a set of nursing applications we used paper prototyping to test out user journeys by simply drawing the experience, sticking it up on the wall and getting feedback from users and policy makers. Through several workshopswe were able to validate our design direction and make informed decisions about the value of the service before getting deeper into the details.

Example of paper prototyping
Using paper prototyping to validate and iterate user journeys before writing a line of code

Asking users which experience is more valuable

When working with the Solicitors Regulation Authority on a project relating to their digital register we had user interface decisions that we didn’t want to make on behalf of users. So instead we asked users directly what would be a better experience given the data we had available to present. As an example, one of these decisions involved how much extra data to show in an autocomplete dropdown. While this might seem like a small detail, these decisions can have a significant impact on usability. In just one day of user testing, we were able to validate with certainty which features of a prototype would provide an optimal user experience. 

Example s of two different user interfaces for testing
Validating with users which user interface adds the most value to their experience

Building a business case for a new digital venture

Sometimes of course you don’t want to test the details, rather the big picture. We worked with the Economist to support a number of business cases for digital product initiatives. Within just a few weeks we mocked up prototypes that brought their product propositions to life. These prototypes were presented to users as approximations of the digital experience for user feedback and internal stakeholder discussions. This helped the Economist to make informed decisions about the value and potential of these digital ventures at the earliest stage of their projects and before significant time and effort had been spent in design and development.

Examples of hi-fidelity prototypes for testing product concepts
Creating hi-fidelity prototypes of new digital propositions that could be tested with users

As you can see from these examples prototyping and testing approximations of digital products and services is not a time consuming activity, yet it provides valuable customer insight at the earliest stage of a digital initiative. This feedback helps significantly de-risk digital projects and provides an increased level of certainly for stakeholders that what you plan to build will meet the needs of your users. 

If you would like to learn more about how we could add value through our experience design services, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Will Grounds

Talk to Will about prototyping and user testing

To learn more about our experience design services, talk to Will our UX director on 0203 8650705 or email