Following on from my article about user testing on a budget, I thought it would be beneficial to share our approach to prototyping with the same short-stringed purse. The hard and fast rule is making a prototype. It doesn’t matter how quick and dirty it is, just do it and test it. The insights you’ll reveal early on will prevent any small holes turning into deep, un-fillable craters.

Plus, you don’t have to be a coding guru to put an effective prototype together, there are plenty of tools out there that are of minimal cost and easy to use. Here are a few of our tried and tested favorites.

Axure

Cost: $289 (standard) $589 (pro)

What it’s all about:

Create simple, click-through mockups or highly functional prototypes using conditional logic, calculations, and dynamic content.

Our thoughts:

Ok, so it’s not quite shoe-string budget material, but once you’ve bought it, you’ve got it. Responsive prototypes, animated transitions, collaborative working environments, and automatically generated tech specs, are but a few of the many benefits to using Axure. We use it for most of our prototyping and love the abundance of widget libraries you can find across the web.

Get it: axure.com

POP (Prototyping on Paper)

Cost: Free

What it’s all about:

A tablet and mobile app that allows you to upload photos of your hand-drawn wireframes before linking them together as a click-through prototype. Add notes, share with collaborators, and receive comments directly.

Our thoughts:

POP is great for getting your sketched out concept tested in its infancy before advancing to the real – digital – deal. It’s super easy to use and there are a variety of screen sizes you can output for before sharing your mockup via the app or a web link.

Get it: popapp.in

Invision

Cost: Free (with premium add-ons)

What it’s all about:

Invision is a free click-through prototyping app that includes mobile gestures, transitions, and animations for web, iOS, and Android. Just upload your screens and get linking. It also allows for responsive designs, comments, and collaborative whiteboards. Pretty nifty for a cheap tool.

Our thoughts:

We’ve used Invision many times for quick click-through prototyping. It can be a bit fiddly if your website or app uses dynamic content, but for those with simple user journeys, this is a great and simple tool. invision.co.uk

Get it: invision.co.uk

AppCooker

Cost: £10.49

What it’s all about:

Basically, it’s the whole package for iPad apps. From within one little tool, you can scope your entire product with project outlines, a drag-and-drop iOS wireframing library, animations, a pricing calculator, and help preparing for app store submission.

Our thoughts:

We’re big fans of App Cooker. Recently the team used it for usability testing and final refinement of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Saloon iPad app. Nothing can beat reviewing your designs on their intended device, so for any iPad app we’d say App Cooker is a big contender for high-fidelity prototyping.

Get it: appcooker.com

Keynote

Cost: Free to Mac owners

What it’s all about:

If you’ve got yourself a new-ish Mac, you’ve got yourself Keynote too. Check out the cool video on this page called ‘Prototyping: fake it ‘til you make it’ from the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2014 (must be viewed on Safari or downloaded).

During the video, they demonstrate how Apple test their app ideas by creating super realistic prototypes with Keynote and just a sprinkling of Xcode. They look and feel like the real deal, and help validate business decisions as to whether the project should be pursued or not.

Our thoughts:

We’re quite new to the realms of prototyping in Keynote, however, it is steadily moving up the ranks of favour in our Design team – Axure Pro may have to watch its back!

Get it: keynote.com

Summary

So there you have it, our top recommendations for prototyping on a budget. May you now go forth and set the digital world on fire with your tried and tested products that work.

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