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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Agile Prototyping - Part 2

In the first part of this series, I discussed the use of paper prototyping and other lightweight methods for fleshing out application user interfaces in Agile software projects.

The main issue as I see it is that user interfaces can be more difficult to change than business logic or other back-end development. The key to iterative techniques is to keep the cost of change low. Reworking an entire user interface can be a daunting task, even for the most agile of teams. This may not be politically correct to say, but it's been my experience over dozens of development projects.

So as I discussed in the first article, the use of lightweight, throwaway mockups or prototypes such as paper sketches or whiteboard drawings can be a useful way of figuring out how a design should work before investing a lot of time in it. You can explore lots of ideas without getting attached to them the way you would if there was a chunk of code involved.

However, one of the issues with these kinds of prototypes is that they are only useful when the customer is available onsite. It's hard to do a whiteboarding session and explain how a interface will flow over the telephone. And a FAXed paper sketch or even a carefully drawn Visio diagram often has left more questions than answers. I've been looking for a way to improve on this for quite some time.

As it happens, I think I've found it. My company, ExtremePlanner Software, has been looking at this problem for over a year, and we've come up with a product that's designed to solve it with a minimum of fuss. I can now take my sketches or whiteboard drawings, photograph or scan them into digital images, tag and link them together, and publish a quick HTML prototype in a matter of minutes. Sharing ideas with remote participants is now dirt simple, and just being able to interact with the designs has resulted in more useful feedback that static drawings ever produced.

The product is called EasyPrototype, and I'm really excited about it, both for my own use, and for the problems I know it can solve for others as well. You can read more about it, or try it out yourself here. It's been a long time since I had this much fun designing and using a product.

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  • I've used PowerPoint or similar tools to accomplish the same thing. If you use the animation and hyperlink features it will allow you to mimic the functions of the interface. The focus should be on data and functions. Avoid any aspect of the look of the interface. Works amazingly well and takes little time or effort.

    For those working remotely all you have to do is send them the PowerPoint and talk them through it one slide at a time.

    By Blogger MorseCodes, at 1:49 PM  

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