Designing an app prototype is an essential step when launching a new web or mobile app. Not only does it help streamline and focus the development process, but it also gives something to show investors when you’re trying to drum up support for your product.
But how exactly do you go about building an app prototype? We’re going to explain the process you should follow to ensure success, and go over some of the most helpful tools that can help you on your journey.
What Is an App Prototype?
An app prototype is an interactive mockup of the mobile app you’re planning to develop. It will give the developers working on the app a blueprint to work from, and will give you something to show investors when trying to raise capital for the project.
Your mobile app prototype should show off the key features of your app, the user interfaces, and give a rough idea of how it will be presented. However, it might not feature any working code, or final design elements. Most of the features in a mobile app prototype are likely to be simulated.
Why Make a Prototype of Your App?
Firstly, prototyping gives you the chance to test out what works about your early designs, and, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t work. This allows you to make revisions earlier in development, and helps save you time and money further down the line.
You wouldn’t embark on a partnership with an influencer without setting up brand ambassador guidelines first, and neither should you begin app development without first developing a prototype. A prototype ensures your development teams are all working towards the same goal, providing a roadmap for development, just as brand ambassador guidelines steer any paid partnerships.
Feedback from showing the prototype to investors and testers can be implemented more quickly in the prototyping stage. Having to change the app when it’s in its final design stages is much more costly and time consuming.
Speaking financially, creating a prototype of your app enables you to better estimate the costs associated with development of the final product. It also helps greatly when trying to raise capital from investors.
How to Make an App Prototype
Developing a mobile app prototype loosely follows the same processes as creating the app itself, albeit with much less of a focus on that final polish.
Identify What Features You Need
The first step in creating a prototype is to determine what features you want to see in your finished product. Because part of the prototyping process is determining how these features will look and work together, you need to know what they’re going to be before you start building.
Start by considering who the target audience for your app is. For example, if you’re developing medical apps, you’ll need to determine what features your users are most likely to need. Having a clear idea of who is using your app, and how they will use it, will help you focus when building your prototype.
The next step is to sketch out your app on paper. You don’t have to worry too much about nailing the final design at this stage, it’s more about getting all the key screens and UI features down on paper. This is known as a wireframe sketch.
If your app has buttons that allow you to navigate to other screens, you can draw arrows between sketches of these different screens to show which functions navigate where. This will give your developers a general roadmap to follow when they begin actually building the digital prototype.
Make a Digital Prototype
Now it's time to start translating your paper sketches into a digital prototype. Start by building all the main app screens that feature in your sketches.
Then you can begin to add in UI elements such as buttons that will allow your users to navigate around the app.
Once you’ve created the basic elements of the UI, you can begin to add in other features that will give users of the prototype a better idea of what the finished product will look like. This could include geolocation features, text fields, colors, and animations.
Another option is to seek product development consulting advice to aid you in the building of your app.
However, with a no-code tool like Bubble, you can streamline the process from building an app prototype to deploying it live on the same platform, so you don’t need external engineering or consulting resources to build a “minimum viable product” (MVP).
Test Your Prototype
Once you have your app prototype in a working state, it’s time to start testing it. You should get as many people as possible to engage in technical exploratory testing at this stage. This will provide you with diverse feedback, and will help you identify as many pain points as possible.
Try to get testers who have not been directly involved in the prototype’s development, then they can view it with fresh eyes, and give you unbiased feedback. You could even employ automated no-code testing or AI software testing for improved accuracy and a faster development time.
Share the Prototype With Potential Investors
Now that you’ve got a version of your app prototype that you’re happy with, you might want to show it to investors. If you need early funds from venture capital or investors, it’s best to present a working live prototype so that they can get hands on with the product, giving you a chance to show them how it works and what makes it unique.
Your stakeholders may have concerns or suggestions about the product, so it’s helpful if you can back up your decisions with data gathered during research and development.
It could well be that investors make valid suggestions for improvements that you had not considered, so be prepared to go back and make some final changes to your prototype.
If you’re not interested or don’t need venture funding, you can start opening your app to more users, through closed or open beta-testing periods. Letting your users know something is still in beta will help set expectations that things will change or are still a work in progress.
Once your final adjustments have been made to your product, you can test it with quality assurance testing software, and then make it available for all customers.
Tools and Services to Help You Make an App Prototype
There are many tools and services available to help you create a prototype of your mobile app, offering a range of features which speed up the development process.
If you were a retail business looking for a way to improve your online and offline sales channels, you might research what the best point of sale system available is; you should take the same approach when researching which app prototyping tools to use.
Bubble is not just a prototyping platform, as it allows you to build and deploy complex web apps without code. Many founders have used Bubble to build their minimum viable products because Bubble allows them to publish their apps and immediately start getting feedback.
Bubble is free to get started, and launching your app starts at monthly pricing of $29 per month for a Personal plan.
Mockplus is a prototyping platform that enables expert and novice developers alike to quickly and easily generate a mobile app prototype.
It offers over 500 web and app templates, giving you a head start when building your prototype. There are also more than 3,000 components and icons available, so even if you start with a generic template, you can quickly customize your prototype.
A free plan is available allowing for up to 10 users and 10 projects. Plans vary in price, up to $21.95 per month for the ultimate plan, which grants access to an unlimited number of users on an unlimited number of projects.
Balsamiq is a platform that specializes in the wireframing stage of app prototype development.
It features a drag and drop interface that allows you to easily position all the necessary components for your app. There are many reusable, customizable components available for you to really personalize your prototype, and fit your needs whether your app is a communication tool or for project management.
There are also hundreds of UI components available, both built-in and user generated. Balsamiq’s signature, sketch-style interface allows you to brainstorm as you build, for a truly unique development process.
Plans start at $9/month or $90/year for 2 projects, going up to $199/month or $1,990/year for 200 projects.
InVision offers a mobile app building platform with a focus on team collaboration. Even remote teams spread across the globe will find it easy to share ideas and build together using InVision.
Integration with a range of other tools, such as Slack, means that communication through InVision is easy.
The digital whiteboard allows you to collect ideas, and journey mapping gives everyone a clear picture of what stage of development they’re at, and what they should be focusing on.
A basic plan is available for free, allowing for up to 100 users and access to 3 freehands (online whiteboards). The Pro plan offers access for up to 200 users, with unlimited freehands to use.
What Features to Look For in Prototyping Tools
When considering which prototyping tools to use, there are a range of factors that you should consider. Choosing the right prototyping tool is just as essential to the smooth running of development as choosing the best business continuity software.
You should look for a tool that offers an intuitive interface and is easy to use, especially if your development teams don’t have much design experience.
Cross-platforms support is important if you’re working on, and designing for, multiple platforms. You can then develop your app once on iOS or Android, then deploy it on both without having to start development again.
Get Building That Prototype
Building a mobile app prototype is an essential step that you should never skip when creating a new app. It helps you focus ideas, encourages experimentation to solve problems, and provides a tangible product to wow your stakeholders.
Follow the steps we’ve outlined to help build your prototype, from that initial brainstorming session to showing it to your investors.
Think carefully about the tools you use to build your prototype, and pick the ones that best suit the product you're building and the team that are making it.