UI Prototyping In No Time - Is It Really Possible?

Tips for how to get the most bang for your UI prototyping effort

If you’re a product manager like me, you’re always looking for opportunities to save - time, money, sometimes even effort. What’s that about this “working smarter, not harder” notion we hear everywhere? Being a product manager in a mature product-centric organization means we live that mantra.

In addition, a product managers’ success is driven by the approaches we’ve got up our sleeves, and we all strive to deliver best in class products in our industries. Some of my most creative colleagues are able to do their jobs with the help of a pen and a piece of paper, forgoing the fancy software or the showrooms recreating the product environment in real time.

For the past two years I have worked as a technical product manager in the cloud engineering space - which according to A Cloud Guru, is one of the fastest growing technology trends six years in row now. The ever-changing landscape of new and quickly evolving cloud services calls for fast rollout of products that can help secure and optimize our cloud infrastructure. Many-a-times I have been asked to accelerate the timeline between a new idea and a validated prototype to keep pace with organizational and industry changes.

How do you streamline UI prototyping?

Here are some of my learnings on what can and cannot be sped through and how to go about it:

  • Don’t try to get a perfect mockup. There will always be something your stakeholders will have input on that you’ll need to change. The more component-based and rough draft in nature your prototype is, the easier and faster you’ll be able to make tweaks to it. Start with a basic schematic drawing. Yes, that’s right! When you put pen to paper, psychologically you’re more connected to your ideas, and that connection can give you a better chance at high-level buy-in from your customers. Then, once the vision is on the right track, you can move to something more advanced or transition your sketches to a UX design team.
  • Find a wireframe solution that works for you. Looking for a wireframe solution because working with well-known platforms requires certain specificity for your mockup? My personal favorite one for this is Balsamiq - it has many options for most common templatized CRM elements. Drag and dropping them onto your screen and adding some text is quick, doesn’t require ramp up time and if you don’t have corporate access, you can start with two projects/month for a very accessible base rate. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to explore a more customizable way to prototype, I also recommend Figma. I use it a lot and they also offer both a free trial and a free starter access that never expires.
  • Don’t skimp on customer feedback, even if you’re short on time. Now that you have your first iteration of a prototype, what about customer feedback? If you are feeling overwhelmed and short on time, substitute individual feedback sessions for a group one. Not only will it be a huge time saver, but it will also help your customer pool build connections and synergies around the feedback they hear from each other. Use tools, like Jamboard by Google or Miro to add the interactivity to the exercise and enhance your note-taking efforts.

Where should you maximise your time and effort on UI prototyping?

  1. Solidify your problem statement and product intent. If anything is worth your time upfront, it is solidifying your problem statement and product intent. If your “why” is well thought through and aligned with stakeholders and company priorities, it will make prototype ideation much easier. Same goes for persona and user journey mapping. My advice is to keep it simple and stick to high-level conceptual representation works here, instead spending more time in empathy interviews and shadowing customers in their relevant activities.
  2. Build a customer community. Invest time in building repeatable feedback loops you can initiate with the customers reflecting your persona focus. Let’s say you are creating a tool for engineers looking to automate pipeline deployments. Try forging connections with your target customer base by forming a group of 6-7 engineering colleagues that can be easily tapped via a Slack channel or a regular touchpoint to provide you with opinions on your thought process. A customer community like this will come in handy multiple times in your product development life cycle. They can even become your adoption advocates once the training wheels are off your product and it starts moving into the production environment.
  3. Think outside the contributor box. If you work in a setting that encourages cross-functional collaboration, think about unlikely contributors to your prototyping journey - fellow product managers, especially those removed from your area of focus and hence likely to have out of the box ideas, and stakeholders that have worked in your space but moved on - they may have ideas/materials for you to think about. Look for input in odd places and I guarantee your point of view will be challenged in a good way.

Ready to embark on your “no frills” UI adventure? Let’s go!

Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

Nina Borysova, Sr Manager, Product Management

A product manager with international background, Nina enjoys promoting efficiency and creativity in product development (no gold-plating on my team!) and traveling to unique destinations outside of work.

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