Why Prototyping Your Ecommerce Store Can Save Your Company A Fortune
So, you’re about to spend a BUNCH of money creating your new ecommerce store. Doesn’t it seem like a good idea to validate your proposed site flow and design before you get too far down the development road?
Prototype and make sure you get it right the first time. Sure, it takes some extra thought up front, but in the long run, it will not only ensure an effective site, but will save you a fortune.
This is not a new concept. You’ve heard the proverb, “Measure once, cut twice,” right?
I mean, even Santa checks his list twice…so make sure you do to.
Plan ahead and make sure you are taking the right approach for your ecommerce store before making the first cut (or writing the first line of code).
What is prototyping?
Prototyping for an ecommerce store can be a wide range of things. It can be simple sketches, formal wireframes, or a functionally working prototype that you can click through. How you choose to prototype will depend on the product you are creating and the problem you are trying to solve.
What is the goal of prototyping?
The goal of prototyping is to uncover any potential problems with your proposed solution or design before you invest too much money in creating it.
The idea is to fail fast (and cheap). Now, the failures we’re talking about here are very small scale. We’re not talking about abandoning an entire business idea because your proposed design isn’t perfect. But we are talking about identifying what part of your ecommerce store fail (or fall short) of their intended goals.
This way you can plan, pivot, and readjust your store design and functionality before you write a line of code, saving you both time and money.
Prototypes can be internal or external. You may just review amongst your team and friends, or you may expose it to some test customers to get feedback. This will depend on how far your proposed design varies from the norm, and how much time you want to invest in prototyping and testing before getting your site up and running.
For example, maybe your product is a custom curated gift box and you want your users to be able to choose their own products for the box before adding it to their cart. This experience isn’t exactly standard and has some complexities. If you designed this in a vacuum without testing it with users, we guarantee that you will get it wrong (or, rather you won’t get it right).
It is impossible to plan the user experience for your sight in a vacuum and go straight to design and nail it the first time. It just doesn’t happen. If you take this approach, you will get to the end of the road and launch your site, only to realize you got it wrong. Then you have to backpedal to fix your mistakes. And mistakes equal money.
In an ideal world, you would test and iterate several rounds of design. However there is also something (a lot) to be said for efficiency. Find the balance that works for your company.
What is the prototyping process?
Step 1: Set Goals
You should always start with your business goals. Why are you doing this project in the first place? Is it a new ecommerce site? Or is it a redesign? Either way, you need to start with what specific goals you want the site to accomplish. This will help you determine what functional and design requirements are needed. It sets the foundation that allows not only the prototyping and design process to be efficient, but also for your end ecommerce store to be effective.
Step 2: Create User Flows
What are ALL of the steps that the user is going to go through on your site? You should list out all of the steps in the process in order from beginning to end. Then, and only then, can you start to consider the best way to design the site experience to make this process as easy and intuitive as possible for the user.
Step 3: Sketch It Out
Once you have defined the user flow (or flows), it’s time to take a stab at sketching out each screen and interaction. Start quick and dirty with hand sketches, and then as the experience starts to form, you can move forward to formal wireframes and even functional prototypes of these wireframes that you can click through. This is where all of the logic of the site experience is hammered out.
Step 4: Test It
During this process of sketching is where you should start to reach out for feedback within your team, as well as to your target audience to see how the experience resonates with them. Throughout the rest of the process, testing and gathering feedback are essential to ensuring your prototyping phase is worth while.
Step 5: Design It
So, you’ve finalized your site functionality and interactions? Now it’s time to go into visual design. To be clear, this is not just putting design on top of wireframes. It is adding emotion and creativity, interpreting the wireframes with visual design. In this stage, some of the exact interactions and layouts may change slightly, which is why testing and feedback need to continue to be part of the process.
Step 6: Develop It
At this point, your prototyping is done. By now, you should have a completely clear validated prototype that you are building. So this step is straightforward. Just build it!
There is a lot of chatter about different development methods. We follow, and highly recommend, a waterfall approach. Don’t go to the next step until the previous step is complete. We have found this to be most efficient and avoids the majority of misunderstandings, mistakes and backtracking.
Getting ready to build your new ecommerce store? Or even make major functionality changes or add ons? Make sure to prototype first. This will ensure you avoid mistakes, save money, and end up with a user-friendly store.