Do you want to design mobile applications? Here’s how you can make prototypes

5 min reading
UX / 19 October 2015
Do you want to design mobile applications?  Here’s how you can make prototypes
Do you want to design mobile applications?  Here’s how you can make prototypes

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Prototyping. That is one of the main keys in conceptualizing, designing and developing mobile applications. Developing a prototype or a navigable sketch of an app allows you to roughly materialize an idea, get close to the end result, accelerate the development phase, avoid future problems and also involve customers

Within the development of mobile applications, there are three types of mock-ups:

1. Sketch: the designer sketches on paper the future application and navigation between different screens. It serves to advance the process of subsequent prototyping in digital format. It is a static representation.  

2. Wireframes: these mock-ups are more complete than those made in the sketching process. It is done on paper and digitally. It contains additional information on each of the screens: layout of buttons, content, calls to action, types of movements within the navigation between screens. This is very common in digital projects. It is a static representation that is usually delivered in image format. 

3. Mockup: this is taking wireframes a little further. It remains a static representation of the app, it is delivered to the prospect in an image, but can display the graphic line, the structure of the information, content and progresses the project's functionality. 

4. Prototypes: digital outline of the project. It shows the interaction between screens and content. It is a navigable representation, in which the user interacts with the actual prototype and the content as he/she will do in the future on the final product: the mobile application. 

Tools for prototyping

1- Proto.io

Proto.io is a tool for designing navigable prototypes of applications, for both mobile devices as well as smart watches. Its main features are:

– User interface libraries. In Proto.io the designer can drag and drop elements in the future interface to complete the interactive whiteboard as a Tetrix. In the end the user will come to a screen in which he/she may navigate just as in the actual application. These native libraries make it possible to give life to navigable prototypes without hitting a single line of code. It's like Meccano. 

– Interactive and animated prototypes. Proto.io makes it possible to design prototypes that are able to transfer all the real user experience of the future application. The usual navigation contacts in applications are allowed: click, double click, up and down vertical navigation, left and right horizontal navigation, do or undo a zoom movement, etc.

– The tool also has functions to animate components or buttons from one screen to another. They are usually animations with 60 frames per second, in which the elements can move, rotate, transition in which they appear or fade … or even create sequences or loops of components. 

– Smartphone apps. Proto.io also has tools to design prototypes for the new scenario of mobile applications, the famous Smartphones. 

– Export the prototype. The work can be exported in several file types: the screens can be downloaded in PNGs, PDF format or HTML5. It can be sent to the customer or embedded in a site.

2. Prototyper

Prototyping tool developed by Justinmind. Features: 

– Multi-device prototypes. Prototyper allows navigable prototypes of applications for iOS and Android to be developed, also for responsive websites (desktop, tablet and mobile) with all kinds of menus, buttons. With all the possibilities for interaction and navigation. It is also possible to develop prototypes of applications which later will run within Google Glass and create your own widgets from models preset by the tool itself. 

– Interaction and navigation. Prototyper makes it possible to define from the prototype all interaction between screens, set the usual movements for navigation (vertical scroll, horizontal navigation and zoom) and incorporate all kinds of transitions and effects.

– Value added in the design part. This tool gives many options to any designer: colors, shading, fonts, image processing. In addition, its integration with Adobe Illustrator, possibly the most-used program in design, gives some interesting advantages: you can open any Illustrator file within Prototyper in vector format (SGV), which allows scaling without loss of image quality at any time.

– Testing the product. Prototyper allows you to choose some of the best tools for testing applications: Keynote, Userzoom, Loop11, Clicktale, Usabilla, Usertesting, Crazyegg, Google Analytics and TryMyUI… 

3. Axure RP

Axure RP is a professional fee-based tool. It makes it possible to make such things ranging from wireframes of web pages and applications to mobile apps to navigable prototypes of any digital project. It is a complete platform, with the option to share progress made in the prototyping work in real time to seek feedback with colleagues and customers. Features:

– Wireframes tool: these are certain projects that customers request go step by step. They prefer to first see a mock-up in wireframes and make decisions from there, before seeing a navigable prototype. Axure RP allows that workflow. Wireframes can be made with their image or text boxes, their placeholders or buttons, etc. and then gradually add color, fillers or transparencies. It has many possibilities. 

– Making interactive prototypes: Axure RP incorporates new elements here that come with a simple drag and drop. Mock-ups where the user can navigate through menus, display the different types of navigation, interact with content, etc. 

– Share prototypes: the tool always generates a mock-up in HTML and JavaScript that can be viewed in any browser, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or Chrome. It can be hosted on your own server or hosted by Axure. Therefore it is not necessary to have Axure RP to see prototypes made with this tool.

– Tutorials: the tool offers virtual training

4. Invision

Invision is a free tool limited to a single project or fee-based with several plans. There are interesting features for a design firm within Invision, which combine features already seen in previous prototyping tools.

– Integration with project management platforms and workflows: Invision makes it possible to share prototyping work as project managers such as Basecamp, Trello or the ground-breaking Slack.

– Share content easily in communities: Invision is fully integrated with platforms like Dribbble, designed to share material with the design community which makes it possible to improve or find new views. The content shared there includes the owner, description and is labeled.

5. Fluid UI

Fluid UI is a very specific tool for prototyping mobile applications on both Android and iOS (iPhone and iPad). It has its own application to test prototypes directly on cell phones. You can also test the models in a web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari). It has a free demo with a limitation on the number of projects (only allows one) and pages (10) and several fee-based plans ($12, $29 and $49 per month with increased functionality). 

There are many other free and fee-based tools, with their advantages and limitations: PopApp, Marvel, Launch, Realizer, Form, iPlotz, MockFlow, Balsamiq, Moqups, Adobe Muse… Test, test, test.

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