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people working on a protoype

Prototyping is more than just folding a paper plane

Egle Vesk

The need to create a prototype and the benefits prototypes bring are well understood, but often, people don't realise that to create a prototype, it is necessary to do a considerable amount of preliminary work, i.e. to collect the correct input using different methods, and to keep in mind all the needs and goals of all parties involved.


Preliminary prototyping activities

Preliminary prototyping activities fall into four major categories:


  1. Researching user needs
  2. Examining the needs of the client and the business goals of the project
  3. Creating an information architecture and the navigation
  4. Generating design ideas

In turn, these activities are carried out through various methods, which have been discussed a lot in our blog. You can also get an overview of them below.


1. Research the needs of the user

The primary need is to understand the needs and goals of the end users of the digital product or service. Working methods, such as task model description and user journey mapping, help to identify the user's needs and goals.


Possible methods:

  • The task model describes all of the user's active actions needed to achieve their goal. The model helps to understand the decision-making process the user goes through.
  • User journey mapping helps us to describe and map the user's ideal journey towards the goal of the targeted activity. It also ensures that the user's actions harmonise and are easy to perform. It is important to note that there is no need to speculate on user needs in a well-made user journey.
  • The customer experience map helps to incorporate a product or service and to visualise how well or poorly both user and business needs are covered.
  • A persona describes users of the same type and purpose, thus representing either a user group, a type of person, or a role. It shows what kind of functionalities people mainly use and what basic knowledge they have to do it.


Personas are created based on data collected through interviews, testing, user research, analysis, and additional interviews. They prevent the creation of unnecessary functionalities. Personas can help in the creation of requirements, ideas, user paths, prototypes, visual design, development, and the ongoing product maintenance plan.


Persona profile content:

  • audience / user segment
  • user role
  • picture
  • name
  • demographic information: age, gender, location, nationality, language, education, technological skills, marital status, profession, income, hobbies, characteristics, etc.
  • main needs and objectives
  • usage stories
  • concerns


The purpose of ​​a storyboard is to help find the best solution for both the company and the end users. The creation process involves discussing the main work processes and the user's path to achieving them. Next, an initial navigation scheme and general-level screen forms are created to achieve the user's goals.

These activities help to gather requirements for a digital product or service that need to be met to fulfil user needs and expectations.

Jutusein tellija vajaduste uurimine


 2. Examining the needs of the client and the business objectives of the project

Possible methods:

Stakeholder interviews. The client's real needs can be specified with group interviews, in which 2-5 key people participate. Interviews with key people provide an opportunity to get to know the nature of the business/product/service, project goals, and necessary business requirements in a structured way and to create clarity about the work results the key people on the client's side expect to see. It also provides an opportunity to map conflicts between business requirements and customer needs.

Participants in stakeholder interviews:


  • the project team
  • internal users
  • the product
  • customer service
  • marketing
  • directors

Different working groups can present their visions for the project. The workshop aims to put together a shared understanding of the issues that the project is trying to solve and to help clarify the requirements and limitations of the terms of reference and to supplement them, if necessary.

Methods that also help to clarify requirements:


  • stakeholder interview
  • usability testing
  • competitor benchmarking
  • contextual research
  • analytics
  • surveys


3.Creating an information architecture and the navigation

Possible methods:

An information architecture determines how a digital product fits together, how people move around it, and how it fulfils its purpose. A good information architecture is usually unnoticeable to the user.


Creating an information architecture includes:

  • gathering the requirements for it
  • thinking about users
  • defining and designing processes
  • planning content
  • designing structures to house information
  • designing navigation
  • often also an analysis of search and similar functionalities


4. Gathering design ideas

Possible methods:

An ideation workshop is a collaborative design method that helps the designer and the client decide which designs are appropriate for the given project. A successful workshop results in a common understanding between the work groups on how the digital product or service should work. Joint decisions help to avoid unnecessary work.


Idea generation workshop activities:

We agree on the functionalities of the project

  • competitor benchmarking review
  • functionality prioritisation exercise
  • template prioritisation exercise


We generate design ideas.

  • competitor likes and dislikes
  • competitor benchmarking review
  • rapid sketching exercise


Main views of the design

  • content prioritisation exercise
  • collaborative wireframing


Designing the navigation structure

  • group card sorting
  • user journey exercise


Sketching is also a great way to create ideas and share them early. This allows teams to test the design without spending a lot of time on the detailed wireframe and graphic design.


Is wireframing an unfamiliar concept to you? Read more about it in the article "A prototype is a plan, not just a sketch"

  • What happens once the prototype is created?
  • How to effectively provide feedback on the first version of a website or information system?
  • How to avoid common bottlenecks?


Take a look at our 32-page digital guidebook  "Prototype Feedback Guide", which you can get for free via e-mail.

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