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What mobile prototyping tools should I use?

Choosing the right mobile prototyping tools can save hundreds of hours when designing an app. Expert Matthew David has real-world advice.

I have found that having good mobile prototyping tools can help save hundreds of hours when building an application. There are two schools of thought when it comes to prototyping:

  •  Hi-res -- concepts that look like they are apps.
  •  Lo-res (wireframes) -- concepts that highlight functionality in the app.

Which approach do I use? It depends on whom I am presenting to. If I am with the core team working through different ideas, we will use lo-res images to visualize ideas quickly. There are some great lo-res tools you can use:

  • A whiteboard with a marker. Don't like an idea? Get the board cleaner out and remove it.
  • Napkins. Yes, it is a cliche, but I have drawn up concepts for mobile apps on napkins or, even better, paper tablecloths.
  • There are many apps you can use for wireframes, such as Penultimate or even the new Notes in iOS 9.

After meeting with the core team, I head back to the business leader or client to show them the core elements we have agreed on. At this point, I want them to have a strong understanding of how the app will work and flow. For these meetings, I use hi-res concepts based on the first round of wireframes. The tools I use include:

  • Photoshop or Illustrator to lay out the app;
  • Keynote or PowerPoint to show click through actions; and
  • Adobe Flash for interactive apps that need to show video and other interaction -- this is time-consuming and often only used for big-ticket projects.

The goal of the prototypes is to get everyone on the same page before the expensive work of programming begins. Often, we keep the designers working with the developers during development to keep prototyping new features.

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What problems have you encountered with mobile prototyping tools?